Failure Apathy: An Opinion

Why is it this beggar has been doing that for the last four years outside your downtown office? Why is it this person with a mental health condition has been diagnosed five times and been given three different medications to see what works. It is not because of the person involved whether that is the homeless person or the mental health sufferer, and to an extent it is not those helping but unsuccessfully. The problem is the programs and by and large societies failure apathy on whether these programs work or not.

Shelter system support programs that aim to get the individual back on their feet or off the streets, and mental health hospitals that are meant to return the individual to a normal life, manage to evade accountability in a way that is hard to compare. The number of people who have gone through their programs with no success sometimes repeatedly going through the latest designed program that will help however producing no meaningful change is too high. The problem is that these “latest” programs continue and are mysteriously hailed as effective. What is an acceptable success rate would be unacceptable for any other group. No one cares if these institutions fail these people and so they are simply not held accountable in a way nearly all others are.

What is taken as success is a shockingly low bar. In particular, those with mental health conditions should be utterly up in arms at the state of their treatment. How is it today by some calculations 80% of those with conditions such as schizophrenia do not work. This is not inclusive of volunteer work. Volunteer work and part-time employment that may pay minimum wage or just above, make up the bulk of the 20%. It seems clear that if this is taken as acceptable, those involved and society at large, have a deep failure apathy that translates in what those needing treatment understand as a clear failure of this part of the health care system is considered fine.

There are many complex problems that are solved if there is accountability for failure. When there is no accountability there is no cost for failure for those responsible for its solution. Rather the failure bares on those that are homeless and remain homeless for years, or the person who suffered a mental break and has now gone from one medication to the next with multiple diagnosis and yet no real change in their well-being. In these examples is it “up to the individual”? With no one wanting these conditions of being, it is impossible to say it is just for the individual to solve and nothing substantive can be done for them. Known to be successful and the right direction are programs that build up the individual, provide skills and addictions counselling. When they do not work however, is it the failure of the individual or those running the programs? It is clear it is those running the program and yet they escape accountability by shifting blame in subtle ways to the individual. This of course is entirely shameful as the individual involved is vulnerable and entirely powerless. Can he or she who has been on the street for four years turn around and say why have your programs failed me? No, they cannot. At least in no meaningful way. That must change.

Whether it is a homeless person who remains on the streets for a prolonged time i.e. several years, or a mental health sufferer who does not work and has been diagnosed multiple times and changed medication just as many, those who have been assigned to that person should not evade consequences for failure. They should not be allowed to shift blame to the individual involved, or simply state some vague claim that it was a complex case. Unfortunately, in reality there is failure apathy towards those assigned to these people. These vulnerable populations have no recourse to the abject failure of programs when they do not work. And many times they do not. Unless meaningful accountability mechanisms are put into place with real consequences that will push improvements forward, there will be no change. The homeless person or mental health sufferer must be able to turn around and say you failed me. That assertion must also carry weight to it and not be simply a talk or a note that is dismissed in their positions of privilege.