(The post below is a possible petition to be sent to legislators in the US Congress. If this was actually delivered as a petition would you sign it? Would you share it with others? Do you think enough people would sign it to make a difference? It certainly does not have to be the document below but I wonder if some sort of statement of fundamental principles signed hopefully by thousands of people would make a difference? I don’t know. And like I said before what is expressed below is my ideas in my words and I am sure that others may find better ways to express the message. The important thing is that a message be sent)
It is time, in fact long past time, for a real change in the mental health system. It is time for a difference that makes a difference. The following principles are some of the ideas that we think should guide that change. We urge you to consider them as you look to devise legislation that addresses the massive needs for effective and humane change facing the mental health system.
1. The system should start with the assumption of the worth and dignity of every human being it serves. No program or service or approach that either directly or indirectly challenges that should be part of this system. No one served by the system should ever have their worth measured by the severity of the issues they face in life or their response to suggestions made to them about how to address those issues.
2. The human and civil rights of the people served in the system should never be seen as blocking or making help impossible. They should not be seen as blocking the way but as a foundation of defining the way to more effectively helping people. No one because of the difficulties in their life or the labels put on them because of those labels is any less a human being and anything that would legitimize them being treated as less is wrong.
3. Pain and suffering in life is more than a medical issue and any approach that defines it as simply a symptom or proof of some illness I supposedly have is inadequate and, in fact, harmful. Trauma is real and a major influence in the lives and experience of literally millions of people. Research has shown that countless times over. Before we can have a system that helps people to deal with that trauma we must have a system that recognizes the central role trauma plays in human life and a system grounded purely in mental illness terms will have difficulty doing that.
4. Because what happens to each of us in life matters justice matters. The experience of many of the people served by the mental health system is one of persistent injustice in many areas of their life. They are disproportionately likely to be poor. They are disproportionately likely to be without employment. They are disproportionately likely to be hungry or have difficulties with having an adequate place to live. They are disproportionately likely to be members of marginalized social groups. They are disproportionately likely to have serious medical issues and little or no access to medical care. They are disproportionately likely to be the victims of multiple traumas in their lives, often violent and often repeated time after time. Reform that ignores the issue of justice is less than the reform we need.
5. Many people with mental health issues in their life do find and build a better life. Recovery is a real thing. The lives of thousands and thousands of people bear witness to that. Any effort to reform needs to be based on the reality of recovery and the realism of hope. People need not be dependent upon the system that serves them. The experience of those who have found some measure of recovery in life should be treated as a valuable resource both for the system and for the people it serves.
6. The people served in the mental health system have the right to an honest system. Those who work as part of the system should be honest both about what they do know and what they dont, the risks as well as the benefits of any recommended treatments. Medication may be helpful to some people but it also has life changing and even life ending risks. The decision rather or not to use medication should be based on more than the authority of the doctor prescribing. We also feel that a system that rests largely upon the use of medication is not the best or safest system for the people it serves and that real effort needs to be put into developing a system that is not pharmaceutically based.
7. The containment of the “mentally ill” is not the answer to the violence that plagues this society and any measure that states or even implies that is a simplistic answer that ignores the real issues of a serious problem and unfairly stigmatizes anyone with a mental health diagnoses and makes it more likely that in the future people will avoid seeking help for fear of having a label put upon them.
8. Being labeled as “mentally ill” has real life consequences and any attempt at reform should address those consequences. Discrimination is real in many areas of life. The language used frequently in the wider society and too frequently by those in positions of leadership is too often blaming, ridiculing, or inflammatory.
9. In a society that prides itself as being free the empowerment of each citizen to make fundamental decisions about the direction of their lives should be unquestioned. In the mental health system it often is not. We think the empowerment of the people it serves to make decisions about their own lives and helping them to acquire the tools and knowledge to make the best possible decisions for their life is what the mental health system should be about.
We seek a system that helps people in need to find and build a better life for them and their families. We seek a system which would better help deliver the promises of this country to all its citizens. We seek a system based on justice and driven by honesty. We seek a system that believes in hope and one that believes the people it serves have reason to hope. While these principles do not begin to address or answer all the questions in front of us we believe they offer the framework for developing the kind of mental health system we all deserve.