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The future of mental health social entrepreneurship

Building a all peer delivered mental health social entrepreneurship

Amy Smith from Clear Minds, Inc in Denver, a potential mental health social entrepreneurship help people safely discontinue psychiatric medication

Amy Smith from Clear Minds, Inc in Denver, a potential mental health social entrepreneurship help people safely discontinue psychiatric medication

Mental health social entrepreneurship is the idea that a business can be designed to provide social good. Social entrepreneurships range from non-profits that have some earned income to completely for profit organizations that try to include social benefit in their corporate bottom lines.  The best book to describe these kind of businesses is How to Change the World by Daniel Bornstein.  This book talks about the Ashoka foundation, which recognizes the best of these models.  Here are the 30 fellows Ashoka Foundation has nominated working in the mental health social entrepreneurship field. 

A subset is called a social business and is modeled by Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunus with his Grameen Bank series of companies. These companies can create a product that completely pays for all the business expenses. This frees CEO’s to tackle solutions to global problems instead of dealing with the constant grind of fundraising that nonprofits face. This never ending hunt takes quite a lot of skill and can occupy up to 40% of a nonprofits efforts. This greatly limits their expansion and abilities, not the least of which because most people and corporation only give away about 2% of their income to charities. This is one of the biggest limitations of peer provided programs who depend on this kind of funding.

John shows off his book and his UnDiagnosing Emotional Distress T-shirt at Altenatives 2011

John shows off his book and his UnDiagnosing Emotional Distress T-shirt at Altenatives 2011

A mental health social entrepreneurship can also can be completely freed from government funding, which is rapidly shrinking in our political environment. Pam Hyde, the director of SAMHSA, says that by 2020 mental health costs will surpass all other physical disease costs worldwide. This is because our current model leads with diagnosis and medication, both of which help SOME people but harm others, and may be increasing disability in our country. Instead, we could lead with peer support. The National Association of State Program directors report on “What Helps and What Hinders” says that peer support  is the single most important thing to help with recovery, and that the mental health system often had the highest score in what hindered recovery.

Why do we need mental health social entrepreneurship?

A business that can pay for itself can expand as rapidly as the infrastructure can be created. This would mean a mental health system so cheap that folks in emotional distress could pay for all of their own help back to a life of their own choosing. As Paul Polak points out in Out of Poverty, having people as customers instead of charity recipients makes a difference in many ways – people can choose between competing services, people can sell product and work in the business, and the business is more likely to have a product designed specifically for the needs of the customer. The most important difference is that being a charity recipient is disempowering, takes away choice, and makes people not want to create their own solutions to problems because they instead wait on further charity. Many of the homeless folks I worked with told me, “I can’t get a job, I’m waiting on my disability determination.”

How Wellness Wordworks mental health social entrepreneurship would work:

Sharon Wyse showing off her artwork for sale at Alternatives 2011

Sharon Wyse showing off her artwork for sale at Alternatives 2011

My idea is take people who are being turned away from the mental health centers who no longer take patients without insurance or Medicaid. Currently in Kansas City these people have very few care options. The first step would be a peer based intake process that lets people know that sometimes emotional distress is a completely rational response to a pretty lousy situation. Sometimes it’s not genetic.

If the person still needed help after two or three consultations with a peer specialist, then we’d refer people to more intense peer based help.  My  mental health social entrepreneurship merges a virtual peer support center, a respite care center, and a video based call in support line. This program could be funded by microlending, where people get a $2000 loan to buy whatever they need to help with their recovery. We are stilling collecting feedback though our online focus group and would love to hear from you, but over half of current respondents are saying that folks with mental health labels are so undervalued that we are a great investment. The Grameen bank find that even homeless beggars have a 90% repayment rates for their very tiny microloans (about $15.)

If people still needed help, at this point we’d refer them to traditional system that would provide the much more expensive and risky diagnoses and medications. This completely turns the mental health system upside down, because now the main people getting peer are already on disability and have Medicaid willing to pay for peer support. Here is a video by Dan Fisher from the National Empowerment Center explaining why waiting to give people medications is highly ethical and likely to cause better outcomes.

Here is a two minute video explaining my mental health social entrepreneurship:

This video took 5th place out of 21 videos during Kansas City’s Global Entrepreneurship week video contest.

And, if you are into speed networking, here is a one minute explanation of the business.

A pitch similar to this one was given at Startup Weekend Kansas City, but didn’t get enough votes to build a team.

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