With less than three weeks to go before the start of Alternatives 2014 – the 28th annual national conference organized by and for individuals with psychiatric histories – I feel inspired to write about why the Alternatives conference is important to the c/s/x movement for social justice, and why we at the National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse feel honored to organize this year’s conference.
The Alternatives conferences have been a life-changing experience for many. When federal funding for the conference was in question in 2013, a letter-writing campaign resulted in an overwhelming response. The letters that were sent to then Secretary Sebelius attested to how much this conference means to people!
To quote from one letter:
“I felt as if I was at home. People like me. Diagnosed like me. Hispanic like me. And even Gay like me. It was a breath of fresh non-judgmental air. And it changed my life . . . It was at that point that I decided that I wanted my life to mean something more – to provide assistance, as others have assisted me in my journey of recovery . . . Believe me when I tell you, for those who attend and participate, it’s truly life changing. And we need more of that.”
To quote from another letter:
“The Alternatives Conferences changed my life. All other conferences are focused on illness and maintenance or pushing a manufacturer’s pharmacy products or treatment modalities.”
To quote from a third:
“The exchange of new ideas and the updating of important information for people on the path of Recovery have been happening at this one venue! It has informed systems advocacy in all fifty states. It has challenged people to keep reaching and keep growing. The mentoring of many of us by some of the early leaders in the consumer movement cannot be underestimated even if we only meet at the time of these conferences. The influence on newer advocates by such leaders as well as their peer support has prompted people like me to stretch, to take risks, and to speak to the important people in my state who can influence policy. These products of Alternatives are important capital, in such a time of change in our country’s health care – because we want health, not chronic illness, to define our experiences! This will not happen without the level of mutual support and idea exchange that happens at Alternatives.”
The presentations offered at the conference every year cover a wide array of topics and points of view. For example, this year, the presentations include two on the Hearing Voices Network and two about peer-run crisis respite services, as well as a number of presentations on healing trauma and too many presentations to count about recovery. (The word “trauma” appears in the conference program booklet 53 times; the word recovery appears 213 times.)
The theme of this year’s conference – “Creating the Future: Change, Challenge, Opportunity” – reflects the fact that we who have psychiatric histories are creating a future where the discrimination and prejudice associated with mental health conditions are things of the past, and where recovery is expected. We are effecting change, meeting challenges, and seizing opportunities to make a difference in our own lives, in the lives of others with psychiatric diagnoses, and in society.
Each Alternatives conference offers in-depth technical assistance on peer-delivered services and self-help/recovery methods. Beyond the exchange of knowledge and networking, Alternatives offers a rich supportive, educational, and healing environment. When asked “one thing I learned that I will incorporate into my life and/or my work,” one earlier Alternatives attendee responded, “We can influence the direction of the future.”
The Alternatives conference is a celebration of hope. Those of us who have been diagnosed with mental health conditions are often told that the situation is hopeless. As we know, that is absolutely not true, and many of the more than 90 workshops and 30 caucuses will address recovery, and many of the speakers will be speaking about their own journeys toward recovery.
This year, we have abandoned the concept of a keynote speaker and instead have invited 10 plenary session speakers. The 10 main speakers will each speak for about 18 minutes (during four plenary sessions), and we look forward to their lively and inspirational presentations! They include some of the established leaders of our movement – such as (alphabetically) Khatera Aslami-Tamplen, Gina Calhoun, Leah Harris, Erme Maula, Harvey Rosenthal and Sharon Wise – well as upcoming youth leaders, such as Lacy Kendrick Burk, Sean Campbell and Letty Elenes. In addition, Patrick Kennedy, formerly a U.S. Representative and founder of the Kennedy Forum on Mental Health, will address a plenary session and afterwards will engage with conference attendees in a 40-minute Q&A session. For more information about these speakers and others, click here.
Other news about the conference:
- Alternatives 2014 is now an approved provider of Continuing Education Credit (CEU) by the Florida Certification Board!
- There will be a special pre-conference arts event on Wednesday, Oct. 22, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. – Creative Dialogue: Creating, Teaching and Celebrating – for all early bird attendees who are artistically inclined.
- And conference attendees can be part of the conversation by sharing their Alternatives 2014 conference experience on Twitter and Facebook! People can Tweet quotes and highlights during sessions, and post photos and short videos! Post to Twitter with our hashtag #AltCon14. (If participants are new to social media, they can learn to use Twitter by attending a pre-conference workshop taught by Leah Harris and Tanya Naranjo!)
For more information about the conference, visit our website: http://alternatives2014.mhasp.org. I hope to see you there!
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Open Paradigm Project’s video of Alternatives 2013: