When I first heard of the proposed “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013” (H.R. 3717)”, I felt relieved and thought “maybe somebody has finally got it!” However, as I read and processed the words I realized just how much Tim Murphy didn’t get it. Is this mental health system broke? Yes it is. Can it be fixed? Yes it can. But we must do it collectively and with the experience and voices of those with true lived experiences including their families and allies.
People have ended up in jail and on the streets due to sweeping enactments by the government such as H.R. 3717. Do we really want to continue this legacy of big government telling us how to treat the most vulnerable in our communities? Our communities collectively must do this. Communities that have family and neighborly support have better outcomes for those with mental health breaks. We have not yet developed community support such as that in this country. We continually rely on government, hospitals and law enforcement to treat and make better those in need. This is not the way to go. We need community and family to love, nurture and support those that are the most vulnerable.
I personally know how hard it can be for a family that seeks support for their child or loved one who is in need of treatment and how frustrating it can be when that help is not given. I have struggled for years trying to find services that work for my sister. As a person that has been diagnosed with a developmental disability and a mental health issue, no one system wants to support her. It has been a constant battle for 25-plus years to get her housing, benefits and treatment. I myself have battled the system as a self-advocate for fair treatment, culturally competent treatment and housing. I have received treatment and been hospitalized in four states, received public mental health care in six states and housing in none.
In one state I received excellent care but no housing. Thus I was being treated while I continued to live in my truck. Each time I went to my therapist I had experienced a new trauma. All other states were sub par at best. In each state I met individuals who were being forced into treatment. I remember thinking that they seemed like they were the walking dead. No facial expressions, just following orders. Is this what we want our communities to look like? Our fellow brothers and sisters being forced into treatment that we know does not work for everyone?
Medication is not the end all for mental health crisis. Some people respond to medications, some do not. Some go deeper into crisis while others just exist. We must and can do better. Our system can be fixed but not just by one person writing an act and thinking it’s a cure-all because he is a licensed clinician.
I stand with millions of others who have shown through our resiliency that our movement is real, has saved lives and most of all we have people that can give voice to what really needs to be changed within the system. If only people will listen.
In the District of Columbia we are doing just that, we are building a coalition of survivors, resilient individuals along with clinicians and providers who believe in recovery. We were awarded the State Networking Consumer Grant in 2013 and quickly set about building this coalition that aims to make real change by putting our words into action and by using our skills and community to build each other up. In December 2013 we partnered with The National Coalition on Mental Health Recovery and Howard University to hold a conversation on mental health and addictions. We brought together community members to build a bridge by having face-to-face conversations about real life issues and events. We had police officers tell stories about how they have been touched personally by mental health crisis in their families and how this has helped them be more caring in their interactions with those in mental health crisis. We need more conversations with those in first responder roles so they can hear first-hand how their interactions with us either empower us to seek assistance from them again, traumatize us and in some cases we end up dead. Real stories, real people, real conversations create change. We don’t need behind closed door meetings held by 60 and 70 year-old white men who only know what they see on TV.
In January we held a city wide Service 2 Justice conference in partnership with over 20 other community based agencies. With a broad range of topics that included advocacy, transgender services, integrating peer workers into organizations, fundraising and building boards and committees. We have also created a partnership with dozens of community based organizations and social justice advocates to bring racial equality to the city. We held a 2-½ day workshop on undoing racism in July of 2012 and will be holding 2 workshops this Spring.
The equality work we do around racism is of the utmost importance; most members of our community forced into IOC are people of color, the underprivileged and those living in the transgender and gender-non conforming communities. Understanding the historical context behind the treatment of these communities is important in the social justice movement. We must know what has happened in order to not ask what’s wrong. Creating community space where all members feel safe, respected and well cared for is a must.
We can only live the life we were created to live if we break the shackles from our past and awaken to the true threat of our existence. In order to do this we must focus on “The Great Turning” and what the great Joanna Macy has put forth in the universe;
“To be alive in this beautiful self-organizing universe—to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it—is a wonder beyond words. Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art. Furthermore, it is a privilege to be alive in this time when we can choose to take part in the self-healing of our world”.
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Interview with Iden Campbell McCollum: