I went to 2 policy meetings today, which usually leads to the cussing, not-safe-for-work diatribe you’ve come to expect following these forays into the lions den. But institutional mental health is being re-organized in Texas, on the local, state and federal levels, and some demonstrable, incremental changes have happened since just last month, that appear to be good faith efforts, and maybe a start.
Both groups are grappling with the lack of consumer involvement. On the local level MHMR’s director of the Consumer Council has some proactive and tolerable measures underway, one includes inviting a speaker to Austin who runs a CSX peer operation in San Antonio. He didn’t describe her that way in the meeting, but whatever, I’ve seen her website and heard her testify and CSX is what she does. This new director is the ex-NAMI player I’ve been ranting about, for taking over the organization that used to be run by one of us. I was surprised to hear his plans to lobby for a new law to expunge criminal records of those arrested with mental illness and applaud these efforts, but that’s just me, progress, not perfection, and truth be told, I want to applaud.
But the real laughs came out of the next meeting across town, the SAMHSA Transformation Workgroup. It’s a five-year federal grant, the entire first year was devoted to planning, and they’re just now beginning to deal with the SAMHSA mandates and hammer out policy based on that consensus statement of recovery. The presenter said they are having real problems with all the rules about “consumer-driven” this, and “consumer-driven” that, and the term itself is creating profound challenges for policy-makers. Seems the folks having the most problems with it are psychiatrists, who are in the stage of Sputtering Disbelief, which I myself regard as an amusing/maddening and altogether necessary pre-verbal, or stage “one” of a long and stimulating journey toward their personal and overdue self-transformation.
There’s something to be said for the gobsmacking of your opposition. They really cannot get their heads around this idea of “giving the keys to the consumer”, and I likened the blustering befuddlement of the pdocs to an entire world of I can has lolcats.
We can use this. They can stumble around in shock and dismay while we implement the outwitting. Sputtering disbelief means they have yet to invent their corruptive framing. They will attempt to bastardize the Consensus model with the mental health version of Rovian talking points, just as they twisted stigma by ignoring our warnings about the biopsych model leading to more, not less discrimination, as they insisted it would. They turn themselves inside out to avoid saying what they really think, and use smoke and mirrors to turn black into white, but by staying a step ahead and anticipating the reaction to come when we talk about using alternatives to neuroleptics — and if it seems they’ve treated us like children before, wait til they hear what it is consumers are holding back — but we know they will argue from authority, use the stock fear, intimidation, pity and discounting by status, because that’s all they have. They are not ready for this and don’t know how to DO equality, and all that Transformation commands them to learn. So let them flail askance, we’re focused on constructing our own rhetorical framework, with Laingian talking points and naming the horrified disbelief as evidence of the power-grubbing it is, even though the feds themselves are telling them the old days are over, and the time is now to become one with the mandate.
Everyone seems to agree the biggest problem in TX is lack of consumer input, and SAMHSA just gave the Transformation team a grant to promote peer-based consumer support and participation. They have to bring us in. Someone mentioned the possibility of one-on-one dinners between consumers and providers, and said this is what they’re going to have to do, that it will come to this OMG, sitting down at a table, breaking bread, person to person, now guess which one is Carl Rogers?
But hold that thought. A family member in the workgroup gave a teary-eyed presentation on a D.C. conference he attended with interested parties. Of course I was predisposed to dislike the family advocate, who stood up and turned to his colleagues and said what he learned at that conference was
“We do not speak for the consumer.”
He described conversations he had with folks who have been so harmed by the mental health system that they call themselves survivors, and he learned that activists have been arrested and put in jail for demonstrating in front of mental hospitals, and that is a violation of their civil rights. He said stigma is the main barrier to recovery and that stigma is generated by us, in the mental health system, our programs and policies and language is filled with prejudice and stigma, and it serves us in ways we have to examine and eradicate. We do not lead the consumer, he said, we work with them in partnership, with the consumer in senior position. We are going to have to get used to this, these are new and serious ideas, and it is going to involve a change of heart. The real goal of transformation is that it happen with the policymakers, and he said he felt this process of transformation stirring in himself while in dialogue with the survivors. And that he was grateful to them most because they treated him like an equal.
I had to leave then to absorb the moment but I gave written remarks underscoring all that, almost verbatim, which I had written in advance of his speech, and reminded the Workgroup that consumer-driven recovery means inclusion of trauma-informed psychological services for those of us who reject the medical model of mental illness. Put that in your pipe and kthxbai.
So I’ve been sitting here wondering if hell’s freezing over or I’ve gone soft. Either way, that’s the idea.