Reclaiming the community: the strengths perspective and deinstitutionalization

W. Patrick Sullivan, Missouri State University


In the past decade, concern for the plight of severely mentally ill people has centered on such issues as mental illness among the homeless population, the burden placed on families who care for ill loved ones, and the impoverished quality of life experienced by those who attempt to survive on their own. Some have called for a rethinking of the abandonment of the asylum and a relaxation of civil commitment laws, while others have advocated for increasing community-based services that specifically target severely mentally ill people. This article discusses these issues and considers how the response to severe mental illness has overrelied on pathology-based models of helping. The strengths perspective provides an alternative. Although severe mental illness presents a formidable obstacle to the afflicted, mentally challenged individuals have strengths and abilities that can be tapped to foster their continued integration in community settings. This adjustment is best conducted through the use of naturally occurring community resources rather than specialized, segregated programs.