The mental health system in Armenia is changing and it has been an honor to be a small part of this change. In 2018, the government mechanisms were put in place to provide support to community-based homes that are offering alternatives to institutionalization. Warm Hearth received one of those contracts and is proud that Armenia is taking responsibility for its own vulnerable people. This speaks volumes on a philosophical level and reaches down into the hearts and souls of the people we care for.
This is a huge victory for people with diverse abilities and mental illness in Armenia, for the people who are destined for psychiatric institutions, and for our residents. One day this could positively impact those who are already unnecessarily contained in psychiatric institutions. This is a huge victory for the nation of Armenia, which will experience through time the blessings and gifts of caring for its most vulnerable. This is a huge victory for humanity.
The movement away from psychiatric institutions towards community-based homes is underway. It is no longer just Warm Hearth doing this work in Armenia. The hope is spreading.
However, formerly, the system largely failed to adequately meet the needs of orphans with mental illness and diverse abilities who are over the age of 18. The lack of humane living conditions and rehabilitation opportunities for this population of Armenia stem from the ideology of the large state-run psychiatric institutions where this population is primarily kept. These institutions are based on an ideology that was inhumane from conception.
The Soviet ideology, which undervalued less productive members of society and relegated those individuals to large institutions in isolated areas, has pervaded in Armenia for the last century. The prevailing attitude toward individuals with disabilities is that they do not belong in the community and bring shame to the family, neighborhood, and culture.
During Soviet times, the institutions were designed as places where individuals with mental illness/ disability, could be cared for apart from society and family. Instead of providing quality individualized care and rehabilitation towards the ultimate goal of reintegration into society they thought their role was to benefit society by keeping this population out of sight.
Furthermore, euthanasia was a common "solution" to the "problem" of caring for these individuals during Soviet times. To this day these institutions are still referred to as "graveyards" by the general population.
As far as we know, euthanasia is no longer practiced in Armenia, but the stigma surrounding this population remains. Individuals with disabilities are stigmatized as dangerous, inhuman, shameful and burdensome. As a result, they are primarily still marginalized and kept out of sight, though this is beginning to change. This attitude has created a climate in which sufficient funding and training for the care of this population is lacking. If nothing were done the residents of Warm Hearth would have been sent to one of these "graveyards". While this is changing, many individuals with needs similar to our residents, are still being relegated to these institutions for lack of other opportunities and options.
These problems are circular and self-perpetuating. But the solutions we have created break into what otherwise is a closed system. Each solution interrupts the negative interlocking cycles of attitude and injustice by providing an inlet for hope and change on an individual, institutional and national level.
The Warm Hearth solutions include:
- providing a safe haven, a home and both physical and emotional protection for individuals with disabilities,
introducing our residents to broader communities,
- providing a meaningful and productive existence for our residents so that the resident himself and the wider community comes to realize that individuals with disabilities have a myriad of giftedness to offer the world,
- providing an alternative to the large institutions and proving, as we have done, that a group home is cost-effective and effective in managing care,
- promoting awareness that disabilities exist and are not due to the fault of the mother, family or individual with disability,
creating, advocating for and replicating a sustainable model of care that staunchly defends the human rights of individuals with disabilities and is respected by the community, NGOs, and local and federal governmental bodies.
Places like Warm Hearth are an urgent necessity. The situation for individuals with disabilities is bleak, to say the least, and we are committed to keeping as many individuals as possible from being committed to these institutions and to experiencing a fuller life.