Paul Cumming: Solution based advocacy, our dream on Martin Luther King Day for the mental health community

Since this is Martin Luther King Day, we are printing Paul Cumming’s suggestions to Wellness Wordwork’s founder Corinna West in this guest blog about solution based advocacy. These suggestions were made via phone and several Facebook conversations. It’s always good to have a mentor.

Video of Paul Cumming tallking about Network of Care:

(Although this TV reporter does start with some disease language, Paul is one of our fans of using a distress based approach.)

Often the people that are talking the loudest about problems have the fewest solutions, because people with solutions are busy building their answers and not complaining. Really, almost everyone in the mental health community is arguing about psych meds, but meds are a product with a lifecycle that has matured. If one reads magazines like BusinessWeek and the Economist, Big Pharma has nothing new in the pipeline. As their products come off patent, they will be spending less and less on marketing. A friend of mine who goes to APA conferences says that the pharma presence is way down compared to say, 10 years ago. So the minimal medication crowd has won. Now we all know solutions besides medications like WRAP perhaps, although I don’t know why advocates are not pushing for 100% consumer participation in the first evidence based practice developed by a consumer, for consumers. Plus the unique exercise programs that you have suggested, Corinna.

Davar, (Michael Long), one of the best spoken word poets in Kansas City and a master of solution based advocacy,  with his family at the Martin Luther King Day celebration in KCK

Davar, (Michael Long), one of the best spoken word poets in Kansas City and a master of solution based advocacy, with his family at the Martin Luther King Day celebration in KCK

The Instant Peer Support will be awesome too.  We need studies on people who are ready, or not, going to a psychiatrist for the first time and instead of taking meds, they were recovering from alternative medication therapies. I wish there where studies, as I’d love to read them. Meds got me started on my Recovery journey, ECT was the biggest factor in 2001, now going on 11 years without a major depression. These two items may be unpopular to some advocates, but I’d never criticize what helped me. Solution based advocacy is about sharing all ideas that may help anyone, then letting people have a completely and honestly informed choice.

That is why I believe in true consumer choice, whatever someone wants to try, go for it. I think the “medicate everyone” and “minimal medication” folks should recognize the real enemy is the illness. New programs, like kick-boxing for health, or water volleyball for the lightness and humor of the game, and other programs creative folks can think up — is what we need. I’d like to see the war declared over. On to many many choices in recovery techniques. A larger menu I believe, is the fastest way to help the most people recover. I just got off the phone with a friend of mine who was in a psych hospital for a week or so. I asked what seemed to do the most for the patients. She said the recreation therapy, and availability of items such as Wii to keep people moving.

The sign I saw at my dentist's office this morning after I decided to focus only on solution based advocacy

The sign I saw at my dentist's office this morning after I decided to focus only on solution based advocacy

We should offer alternative treatments, and not criticize someone’s choices to use medications. If one is healthy, don’t go to a doctor. Just like if someone doesn’t need a cement patio don’t go talk to a cement company.  If the mission of advocacy is to criticize the existing system then yes, funding may not be available. If the mission of instant peer support is to provide excellent services for what people want, or a great set of options, so they can choose their own course of activity – then I think you will get funding, and be watched with great interest. Complaints about the system is easy, anyone can do it, and it is done. Doing something for someone in distress is the challenge, and very few do anything different.

What we talk about in the recovery movement should be carefully considered to further solution based advocacy and not just complaints.

Everything ends up with a label, even sunshine, it is called a great day. Instant Peer Support ideally would be a solution. When people around the country refer to Instant Peer Support and they say it with a smile, and an anecdotal story, “the way they do it in Kansas City is” then it’ll be a winner. Or, if it is heavily weighted in anti-current system of care links, then people visiting the site will see the complaints, miss the solutions and most likely just say “it is one of those anti-psychiatry sites” and not call for Instant Peer Support, nor would it’s reputation go very far around the country. That is my take.

Very few products, inventions and idea are based on the dislike or hatred of current norms, really great ideas simply deliver better. Instant Peer Support with the Google grant has a chance to be really great. Why depend on the old tired bandwagon of complaining, which has proved since its inception of the movement to involve very few of the 25 million people taking medications. Rather Instant Peer Support should focus on the 25 million potential customers.

School District 500 promotes scholarships at the Martin Luther King day event in KCK

School District 500 promotes scholarships at the Martin Luther King day event in KCK

I think solution based advocacy is the key to get funding

I really really am excited to see instant peer support (or whatever you end up calling it)  get off the ground. When you get the Google grant or some other grant I believe that you will be so busy building the organization and spreading the word nationally of what you have created, that there will be no time for criticizing or preaching to the choir.  Take Soteria, the program studying how people stayed off medications for initial psychosis and had better outcomes. It  is marketed by negative storytelling about how how mental health system doesn’t work. The result is that a couple of places in operations while others came and failed. For a 20 plus year track record the concept helps no significant percentage of consumers. I don’t know anyone who recovered through Soteria. No conference workshop presentations by alumni.

New program development is the name of the game – this is how you practice solution based advocacy.

We need people with the creativity and drive to make programs that will benefit people throughout the country. Check out this New York Times article about a former convict.  It’s a  front page article, one of a 5 or 6 part series by Benedict Carey. Notice how the story is told with no criticism toward any existing entity. The article does tell a story of success, and promotes peer support. All without being negative. We need to move on into productive work like Instant Peer Support, WRAP or other yet to be created programs. It is easy to get stuck as a negative activist or critic, and it is much harder to break free and work toward program development as Mary Ellen Copeland did, or Joyce Burland did with NAMI’s signature program, now taught to over a 100,000 people. You can do it without raging against the machine.

Keith Jones, a Teacher and past recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Winner spoke about solution based advocacy in education

Keith Jones, a Teacher and past recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Winner spoke about solution based advocacy in education

Another idea, as you are creating Instant Peer Support think about being interviewed by the New York Times. It’s read worldwide, and how this awful story of a prisoner was weaved into a front page story for peer support specialists, without being negative. If you choose the positive route, and as you transition to program manager/developer focus on Instant Peer Support, and as you said leave the criticism to others. If you are successful the critics will join you.

Imagine setting up a program delivered to 100,000 people like Joyce Burland, and Mary Ellen Copeland has probably delivered to even more. They are not negative activists. Imagine the New York Times article interviewing a similar person like this ex-felon, but instead, 5 years before they committed a crime.  They could have called Instant Peer Support, had an Android Tablet delivered by bicycle in 30 minutes and that person had friends, did a kick box class, and played water volleyball in the first week … They’d be so busy meeting people and having fun while getting exercise that the suicidal crisis that he initially called about had disappeared. What a story that would be! It can be, and will be.

What do you think? What solution based advocacy do you want to tackle? What are some great programs you want to create or share?

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Guest bloggers are an important part of this website. We get the author's permission for all guest re-posts before publication. If you'd like to submit an article, please email us: Corinna@WellnessWordworks.com

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