Families brace for health care cuts
The discussion around the potential cuts to health care in Georgia—who is responsible, what will be cut and when—these questions are political and complicated. On the sidelines of this discussion are the individuals and families who fear what this will mean to their health, their families, and their ability to lead regular lives.
In Atlanta, community workers like Pastor Michael Sheppard, director of the men’s shelter Shepherd’s Inn, and social worker Pat Jones of My Sister’s House, a women’s shelter, devote their lives to helping people through hard times. But they cannot do it alone. They know that people with serious mental illness need continuity of care, and that access to anti-psychotic medications is critical to the safety of not just the individual, but entire communities. They, too, are scared of what this news will mean to the communities they serve.
As the daughter of a man who suffers from schizophrenia, I know what this kind of news would mean to a family. I know how painful it would be to learn that your loved one may not be able to access their medication, or meet with their psychiatrist, or be provided with the stability of having a social worker in their life. I know categorically that without these supports my father may not be alive today.
I saw my father in the men and women I met and photographed in Atlanta. Many of the people in these photographs were not dealt an easy hand to begin with, and mental illness adds an enormous challenge. In spite of this, these mothers, fathers, daughters and sons are working hard to stay healthy, to support their families, and sometimes simply to survive another day.
Dawn Harris, a 33-year-old mother of seven who suffers from depression and related addictions, has enrolled herself in the year-long job placement and detox program at my Sister’s House. “I was tired of having my kids see me that way,” she said. I met her on day 29 of the program. She is committed to her recovery, stays late in class to make sure she has everything right, and works hard at her assigned kitchen chores before she picks up her kids from daycare.
Dawn is terrified of what these funding cuts might mean for the futures of her children, one of whom is autistic and three of whom suffer from trauma related to an abusive former partner she left. When asked about her hopes, Dawn said: “I want to show my kids what I haven’t shown them in the past, and what my mother couldn’t show me. I just want to be independent, and lead a normal life, and go to church.”
If these fiscal cuts occur, I am left wondering how this basic wish for good health and a simple life will be possible for all of the strong Americans I met in Atlanta.
I hope that for Dawn and her children her wishes can still come true.
Amanda Tétrault is a photographer from Montreal, Canada. She is the author of the photographic book “Phil and Me” (Trolley Books) and is an advocate for awareness of mental health issues and their impact on families, and on children living with mentally ill parents.