I’m one of those mental health discussion weenies. I’m an advocate who pokes my head in a lot of corners because I learned a lot time ago that everything connects and makes sense. Really, mental health discussions, environmentalism, industrial food, transportation, water rights – all of the painful issues right now boil down to the same thing – there are some people out there making a lot of money off doing things in a way that doesn’t make sense. So inertia and lobbying money helps us keep doing things that don’t make sense instead of working to help the grass roots people. A few people out there are making a ton of money off hurting the rest of us, and don’t feel like stopping. So the answer is the same in all those areas: make it more profitable to do things that make sense, that help more people, that are responsible and sustainable.
So I went to some community meetings around transportation and education and civility during elections to try to figure out how our world was working. I noticed that the same organization had hosted all three events. They had relatively balanced discussion guides and brought people from all sides of an issue. Then they were able to moderate the forums in a way that allowed everyone to have a say while maintaining respect. This was Consensus KC, which turned out to be part of a national movement called deliberative democracy. People who disagree with each other are brought together to talk in a way that promotes exchanging idea instead of the types of mental health discussion that just force the same old ideas out there.
The Germ of a Mental Health Discussion Idea
I decided to approach Consensus KC about forming this kind of mental health discussion. I sent their director, Jennifer Wilding, this email about it in October of 2011:
I’d like to propose a program for your organization. I work in the mental health field and the CDC says 50% of Americans have a diagnosable mental illness. Mental Health America says that 1 in 4 people have these kinds of problems, so this is a very common situation. However, in my business I am trying to promote a mental health discussion about emotional distress coming from life situations, not illness. Lots of research is starting to back this up.
I propose a mental health discussion on the long term effectiveness of psych meds in Kansas City, or even the future of mental health care. I think this debate or mental health discussion would draw a huge audience – lots of people are very passionately involved with mental health issues. This is the kind of very hot, very sensitive, very important issue that Consensus can handle with good taste and tact and get positive results and lots of media attention. I would be glad to help prepare issue briefs, and know many other mental health discussion type advocates who could do the same. I know Consensus typically puts out three options and it could be 1) jails and nursing homes and hospitals like we do now, 2) outpatient care and preventative care inside the mainstream, or 3) peer provided care by people who are themselves in recovery (my option and much cheaper).
Does this sound like an interesting mental health discussion?
Then I got back a yes!
Hi Corinna -
What a great idea! I think you’ve identified a topic that is ripe for discussion. And you managed to send it to me on the day of a board meeting….
….The board is interested and glad that you thought of us. They thought you did an excellent job of explaining the situation, and agree that there are possibilities. Like we discussed, we would want to get a group of mental health agency folks together who, along with you, could move things forward. We have a process that we use to develop a mental health discussion guide and that group would be part of that process. I’ll explain more when we get together week after next.
Being in the right place at the right time to bring in a national mental health discussion
So we formed a steering committee and had a few meetings. I got mad at the committee and tried to talk them into my point of view. Then I learned that the committee wouldn’t even be balanced if everyone agreed with me, so it took the pressure off me. We came up with a basic framework for how to look at the issue and compared other ways deliberative democracy organizations had looked at it. The project got dropped for a while due to my wedding, then due to Jennifer’s grant writing schedule. I kept nudging and asking, “What about that mental health care project,” but neither of us had a big drive for it. For a while I had vowed to stop doing advocacy work with mental health care providers, and neither of us had funding for that kind of project.
But then this spring my heart softened due to my spiritual emergency and I thought I might be able to talk to mental health providers again. Bike for the Brain funding came open, and I talked Jennifer into applying for it. Then a month later the Health Care Foundation of Greater KC had a mental health grant, and I talked Jennifer into using the Bike for the Brain proposal as a template for her letter of intent, so this grant was already in a complete and pending. Then Obama’s announcement of the national mental health care came through – and low and behold, we were in place. We already had the committee, a discussion outline, and pending funding. The call came to raise $150,000 in two weeks, and Consensus KC was able to do it with the framework our committee had already put in place.
So at this point we don’t know who will be on the steering committee at all. At the national discussion that took place today, only 1 of the 15 speakers was a person with lived experience, and she was a disease model advocate. Only two psychiatric survivors were invited to be among the 200 or audience members at the national discussion. So at this point many politicians don’t know the difference between psychiatric survivors and disease model advocates, so likely what is next is a massive social media push to educate the mayors so that we actually have representation on these forums. That, or all this work will be for nothing and we’ll just have the same old same old status quo discussion, where everyone want to debate what to do about mental health. But they don’t want to ask if what we are currently doing actually works or not. So stay tuned for a massive email campaign to these majors or deliberative democracy organizations or whoever is picking the steering committees. Otherwise it will be like the entire NIMH budget that pays for translational medicine funding without once asking peers what would actually help us.