How can social enterprises that help people with mental health issues grow and prosper?

This blog posts look at one model developed in Greece. Though not perfect, and with a dark history, it is unique model that may have implications to help policy makers in other countries in organizing their own social enterprise models.

According to this document, in 1999 the Greek Government created a special legal framework for companies that support the “creation of social cooperatives with limited liability with people with mental health problems.” These enterprises called Koi.S.P.E. or Kinonikos Sineterismos Periorismenis Efthinis, operate as both independent trading enterprises and official mental health units. According to the above document, to be characterized as a Koi.S.P.E. the following criteria must be met:

  • At least 35 percent of the employees must come from the target population of the organization.
  • They are exempt from corporate tax except for VAT.
  • Those who work for the organization can earn a wage without losing their social benefits.

This last point is especially important because as it stands in the US, to my knowledge if you earn disability you are not allowed to earn extra income. Of course you are allowed, but you lose your disability benefits, which are already low, this forces people who rely on those benefits to stay in a social welfare state, not pushing beyond their natural limits.

It may seem dreamy to hear of an organizational structure like the one formed in Greece, however the beginnings of this organization were not as fanciful. It followed a scandal of reserving the island of Leros as a “Psychiatric island” where mental health patients from all of Greece were sent by the troves for decades until a biopsychosocial model was adopted (versus a biomedical model) for therapy. After this, the mission changed to one of integrating mental health patients into community living facilities with employable jobs, versus being locked away in asylums. You can read more about the history of mental health social enterprises in Greece here. And if you are interested in the history of mental illness in Ancient Greece, the Atlantic did a great review of the book, Mental Disorders in the Classical World.  

To be honest, it is difficult to find a model of mental health services that does not rely heavily on the medical model of helping people. Not that the two are separate, but it is difficult to find an organization that integrates the biological model, the psychological, and the social model to help an individual grow and integrate.

Personally, I feel it’s important to integrate all three, we are whole people who are physical, psychological, and social beings. But, how can you focus on all three and help your enterprise grow?

There are several organizations in Greece who are claiming to be on top of this. One in particular is Xenios Zeus . I would be curious to see how they are able to keep their quality well and their profits sustainable. Their websites touts that they offer mental health therapy, vocational training, residential housing, and “Protected Apartments” for around 4 people– focusing on helping them reintegrate into society.  In addition they offer mediation offices in Chania, Crete, helping their clients get legal support for filing for governmental aid, and mediation most probably having to do with conservatorship. It looks from the outside like a good organization with a lot of offerings for its client base, but aside from governmental aid, I would be curious how it is sustainable, especially when it seems part of the population they are servicing are the homeless, and people dealing with poverty.