Monday, January 24, 2011

Getting Government Help (Part II)

Now that funds are so tight, government resources for the mentally ill are getting scarce on the ground. Just because you qualify doesn't mean you'll get them. Here's the second installment of my 3-part series on struggling with bureaucracies:

Be concise and polite. Losing your temper will get you thrown out the door, hung up on, or given the worst possible service. If you do lose it, take a deep breath, then smile and say sincerely, “I’m sorry. This is a stressful process and sometimes I get angry.” Even though these people are dealing with the mentally ill all the time, they have few people skills and no psychological skills or patience  (my apologies to the few shining exceptions!). DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY. Paranoia will end the conversation every time, and get you marked down as a troublemaker. Their attitude is NOT about you.
Do not tell a long, detailed sob story. Do not try to make them feel sorry for you or give them every last detail. They’ve heard it all. They don’t care.
Have plenty of proof of your claims. Back up your diagnosis, your work history, your hospitalizations, and anything else they’ll question. Get paperwork from doctors and employers, or their agreement to back you up if someone calls them. Have a lease to prove your residence, or a friend who will verify that you are staying with them.
In bureaucracies, paperwork is God. You cannot afford to be disorganized about this.
Getting Organized: What if you are disorganized by nature? Here’s a simple system.
1) Get a box. Not a huge box, just one about the size of a milk crate or a standard box of books.
2) Get some folders – one for each agency you’re trying to get help from. Write the name of each agency on a folder – Medicare, SSI, Disability, Housing, Medicare Part D, Therapist, Psychiatrist….whatever the issues are you’re working on.
3) Every time you get a piece of paper about that issue, put it in the right folder on top of whatever’s there.
4) Every time you send out something to that agency, put a copy of it on top of whatever’s there.
5) Every time you have a phone call or make notes or memos, or do ANYTHING about that issue or agency, you write it down and put it in the right folder on top.

This system keeps it simple. Whatever is most recent is right on top. Whatever is going on will be right there when you reach for it. Even if it’s old and somebody starts making a fuss about it, you know it’s just further down in the stack.
So all you have to do is develop a habit of putting each paper in the folder the second you put it down. Don’t put them anywhere else. Don’t leave them somewhere ‘temporarily’ or ‘till I can get to it.’ If you use this system your papers will always be in the same place every time, and nothing will be missing.
It doesn’t matter if the notes are crumpled or scribbled or have phone numbers scrawled on them in 3 colors of ink, or coffee spilled on them. It doesn’t have to be neat. It just has to be COMPLETE and FINDABLE. Just keep the box in the same old corner of the closet, or whatever.
The rest of your life can be as messy as you want.

The above is an excerpt from the book Is There Room For Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies to Coping with Mental Illness, copyright 2010 by Deborah Fruchey. Available on, Kindle, as a Apple iBook, or by request at your bookstore. See the posted link for a short video about the book, or visit