#5: If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit– Go Barefoot: The Consequences of Living with no Support System

Every year, the Vermont Department of Mental Health has a conference that is open to the public. This conference is open to anyone who has lived with a mental health condition, their family, their friends, hospital and community mental health providers, law enforcement, advocates or anyone who simply interested in learning more about Vermont’s mental healthcare. Every year they discuss how to promote healthy habits, wellness and recovery programs for those who receive support from the Vermont Department of Mental Health. Those participating learn about how hospitals, agencies, communities and families are implementing innovative models of support for those in need of treatment.

This year, they decided to tackle the biggest fear of anyone who cares about someone with a serious mental health disorder. “Vermont loses over 100 to death by suicide every year,” and that number is only growing. This is a public health crisis and, like in any crisis, we’re working towards a solution. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention has recently come out with a basic framework for suicide prevention. This relies on various partnerships with Vermont Health Care providers from screening onward. Vermont has learned from other states and other countries that deaths by suicide are very preventable. With the Zero Suicide approach, we may be able to prevent many suicides.

However, it’s hard to know when someone is considering suicide. A lot of the time, people are ashamed of their issues because it’s not ‘normal’ and therefore not ‘right.’ This means that many people who end up committing suicide have never sought help, never had a ‘history of mental health issues’ because they simply never acknowledged their issues. The big question here is: How do we help people who refuse our help? How do we know who to help when they won’t even come to us?

One of the main reasons people are ashamed of their mental health conditions is that they fall outside of what has become known as the norm. But people who are autistic or schizophrenic or depressed aren’t ‘crazy’ or ‘not all there.’ They’re just people. They just need a little extra support to fit into a world that is tailored to fit the ‘mentally healthy.’ But the fact of the matter is that, increasingly, mental health is appearing to be something that is completely out of our control. If someone lives in a place where they have someone who cares for them, they’ll have someone looking out for them. But some people aren’t cared for properly, and those are the people who go undiagnosed.

Often, those with undiagnosed mental disorders and disabilities end up feeling isolated in life. The only thing is, they don’t know how to fix that. They’ve never had someone willing to help them out. So, without a support system, they often end up living in less than optimal conditions. This is true for many of Vermont’s homeless population have mental health conditions whether intellectual, emotional or otherwise. To counter this problem, the Vermont Department of Mental Health has made the Pathways Vermont housing program, originally funded as a pilot project to bring the national program ‘Housing First’ to a rural state,  and official Specialized Service Agency. This will allow for Pathways to extend their efforts to create affordable housing for those in need of it and to provide support for those who have never had it before.

Overall, it is clear that these programs are doing what they can to help the people of Vermont who have had to live with the awful side affects that come with their inability fit in with society’s definition of ‘normal.’ But we have to ask ourselves, if everyone has to fit into one version of  the norm,  why can’t we make it one size fits all? Maybe, one day, we might even be able to have more than one size. But until then we’ll take it one step at a time.



Gallagher, Patrick. “Vermont Department of Mental Health Officially Designates Pathways Vermont as a Specialized Services Agency | VTDigger.” VTDigger. VTDigger, 06 Oct. 2016. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.
@vtdigger. “Vermont Department of Mental Health 2015 Adult Mental Health Conference.” VTDigger. VTDigger, 26 Aug. 2015. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.
Maisie Newbury

4 Responses to “#5: If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit– Go Barefoot: The Consequences of Living with no Support System

  • Maisie, I see that you’re branching out into some interesting topics associated with mental health. Has delving into some of the programs you describe above helped focus your attention on a particular issue that you’d like to explore in greater depth through this project? For example, do you now want to narrow your aperture to investigate the problem of housing for those with mental health conditions in Vermont? Or do you think it would be more valuable to do a broad survey, exposing the range of issues surrounding mental health and differing abilities?

    Until next blog,

    • It’s hard for me to say at this point. There is so much to be done with this topic and I’m still not one hundred percent sure which path I want to go down. I think that it’s important to look at the far-reaching consequences of the lack of mental healthcare. I would like to extend that beyond homelessness (perhaps to prisons and hospitals, the parent-child center, etc). But I can’t be certain yet.

  • Maisie,

    Here is a video that seniors in AP English at MUHS produced last year on the lack of mental health capacity in this state: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkLwys4nBcA. In the video, Fred Kniffin, who then became the CEO at Porter Hospital acutely talks about the craziness of this situation: if you show up at an emergency room with a broken arm, no problem, but if you show up with a mental breakdown, they often don’t know what to do or have the resources to support the patient. Culturally, we have decided mental health is not important and are therefore not allocating the necessary resources; that’s a sobering claim.

    I’m sure you know some of the students who created this documentary. If not, I’d be happy to put you in touch with them or any of the subjects in the video documentary.


    • Thank you! I do know a few of the people who worked on that documentary and can talk with them. Thanks for sharing, I will definitely use this as inspiration.

Leave a Reply Text

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *