Sunday, May 20, 2007
Dinner Conversation with Dan Fisher
Dan Fisher is a practicing psychiatrist in Massachusetts who fully recovered from schizophrenia many years ago. He is a walking example of recovery, which is something the mental health system doesn't believe can happen except in rare occasions. People who enter the mental health system with pronounced symptoms are typically given a serious diagnosis and a bleak future. They are told they will be on medication the rest of their lives in order to keep the symptoms stabilized, but that there is no cure for the illness itself. Recovery is unheard of by these newly diagnosed patients, and their future is mapped out by an unbelieving mental health system. I am not exaggerating. This is how it is, and this is something I saw first hand, again, at the Louisiana Peer Support Outreach training. Every person I interviewed said they had been labeled with an incurable mental illness and told they would never recover. Their only hope was to maintain stability by taking medication and participating in day treatment programs, which are designed and run by the same system that diagnosed them. These programs do not teach or expect recovery. They are hospitals without walls.
The thing that struck me the most was that all of these individuals are now in recovery. This happened only after Dan Fisher began his visits with them after Katrina, offered them hope, and introduced the reality of recovery. This is how recovery typically begins.
When people are offered hope and support and encouragement by other people who have recovered, recovery happens all on it own. It just does.
It wouldn't take hundreds of millions of dollars to transform the mental health system. It would take a FREE, NO COST paradigm shift at core levels of the system, starting with medical colleges and universities. If the system itself truly believed in recovery, people would routinely recover. How simple is that?
I get incredibly frustrated when I think about it. Sometimes it makes me cry, especially when I have an experience like I did in Louisiana. This whole concept of recovery hit me over the head like never before. The mental health system in Louisiana is more backward than any other I've seen in this country, yet all it took was Dan Fisher to offer hope to the "hopelessly labeled" for recovery to begin its course. I saw it in each of their faces. I heard it in their stories. It gleamed in their eyes. Hope is a beautiful thing to witness first hand. I'll never forget this trip.
Why is the mental health system so resistant to hope?
Unless hope is instilled at the core level of the system, recovery will not be possible for hundreds of thousands of people - unless they have an encounter with someone who has recovered in spite of the system. It doesn't need to be that way, but it is.
This video is one of my favorites from the Louisiana trip. It's candid and unedited with Dan, Beth, me, and two people from Meaningful Minds, the self-help support network in Louisiana, talking about the terms people adopt to call themselves when they begin to recover and challenge the mental health system. The woman talking is Debra, the executive director of this newly formed organization. We also discuss the chemical imbalance theory of mental illness, which is adopted like religion in the mental health system. It is the primary focus of treatment and prognosis and, most of all, medications. It is highly debatable, as you will see in this video.
I took 106 video clips of my trip. I've just now finished viewing all the footage. I'll be making DVDs to send to the folks in Louisiana as well as to Dan Fisher. The Office of Mental health in Louisiana has also requested a DVD of the footage. Interesting. Meanwhile, I'll be posting clips here and there on this blog. I couldn't resist showing this one first because it is my personal favorite! It's a wonderful introduction to Dan Fisher.