Empowerment For Healthy Minds
Computer Empowerment Program

Chris Simpson, a 28 year old mental health consumer, eases back into a worn, brown armchair that appears as if it has at some point been set upon by a pack of ravenous dogs.  Chris remarks "Computers are helping me keep up with the world!" as the blare from two color televisions located in adjoining rooms threatens to drown out his words.   Happily I'm able to record his comment in this humble, homey drop-in center located in Southwestern Virginia.  Today I'm soliciting feedback on our new Computer Empowerment Program, and I'm excited to hear that we may be on the right track.  As I write down the responses of Chris and our other pupils I think back to when my life seemed bleak and pointless.  Now there seems to be so much to do, and so much hope for the future.

While medical advances have resulted in deinstitutionalization, many people with mental illness live in a world of desolation.  Many are estranged from their friends and family, and receive little social contact.  Many spend each day, as I did, detached from the life of active civilization, with no path toward wellness apart from state-provided maintenance in the form of medicine management and a monthly subsistence payment of some kind.  Life can at times be nothing more than "holding on" in a state of ignorance and dependency.

How did we become so passive?  I think part of our dependency may be traced to lack of access to information.  Many feel they must, for example, rely on their doctors to obtain information about medication and treatment practices.  Another part of this dependency relates to feelings that what one says is not important or should not be considered in decisions.  Sometimes "Who cares?" appears to be the attitude projected by service entities. 

We can fight against the forces that lead us to live like mollusks.  Computer empowerment can change a person's world, awakening abilities that have not been tapped or fostered by available services. By "computer empowerment" we refer to the process by which a person becomes connected, technologically and socially, to our information society.  Computer empowerment involves (a) computer skill acquisition, (b) computer ownership, (c) mental health advocacy, and (d) volunteer work applying computer skills in the service of people with mental illness. In becoming empowered technologically, a mental health consumer may gain feelings of mastery and worth, may find paths to self-awareness and personal growth, and may see for himself a beneficial role in our culture. 

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