Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Great Divide

I've had enough time to recover from the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network summer conference, so I thought I'd write something about it. I posted a video on the Faces of Recovery blog of some of the opening remarks by my friend and collegue, Sherry Jenkins-Tucker. I decided not to cross post the video because so many people are subscribed to both blogs and they would get duplicates in their email.

This was the third conference I'd attended, and it was by far the most powerful. Not because of any of the activities or workshops or keynotes, but because of the harsh realities I came to realize through the unfolding of the conference.

We are a divided system here in Georgia. We have the "medical model" folks and we have the "recovery model" folks, and both camps were strongly represented at the conference. I was dumbfounded at times because I am typically surrounded by empowered individuals who are in recovery, yet I came face to face with individuals who have no clue what recovery is. They talk about their medications and their doctors and their day programs. That's all well and good for them, but what about a life outside of the mental health system? What about friends and movies and sports and classes and jobs and all the other things that life has to offer? I would have loved to hear about the whole person rather than one diagnosed aspect. We are people first! But our humanity is stripped away from us if we totally buy into the medical model of treatment, which is so painfully prevelant.

I felt this sense of dark oppression among the participants in the conference. I heard staff members who'd brought consumers to the conference straight from the day programs, warn consumers not to stay in their hotel rooms and play hooky from the workshops. I heard one staff person tell their group that they were in school and needed to go to "class", referring to the workshops. In other words, this conference became an extension of their day treatment programs. I ran into one consumer in the elevator scared of missing an event that she was "supposed" to attend and scared of "getting in trouble."

This broke my heart.

After that encounter, I turned to find a room full of peers who were relaxing and playing cards and talking and just kicking back. This was the peer support room, one of the new additions to the conference this year. It was a welcomed success. I just wonder if some of the more oppressed consumers were even allowed to go into that room.

I walked into the auditorium to hear one of the state people talking about how they planned to spend the mental health budget. I saw the Power Point presentation plastered with the typical medical model crap, just like every other year. So I left and filmed the gorgeous sunset at the pier. Later, two consumers joined me and we had fun just getting to know each other. I couldn't help but think of all the consumers still in the auditorium, at that point, pouring their hearts out to the deaf ears of the governor's advisory council. I doubt this council ever had a meeting with the governor, and I doubt even more their power. All I know is that the consumers who spoke to them were sincere and authentic and believed their voices were being heard.

The next day, the Network presented awards to various individuals and organizations who deserved recognition for the work they'd done the previous year. This part of the conference is always fun, but this year I nearly shit my pants when Andy Miller accepted the journalism award. He is the journalist, along with Alan Judd, who broke the story for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about all the deaths in the state hospitals in Georgia. The "Hidden Shame" series is still going on, and it has shaken the state office to its core. You can see an overview of all the articles and the fallout at this webpage, hosted by the Network. Andy Miller is a hero to all consumers in Georgia who are at risk of being admitted or committed to one of Georgia's seven state hospitals. He and Alan, through these articles, are our strongest voices to the state right now. I was totally taken by surprise when I saw Andy there. Wow wow wow!

The mental health system in Georgia is ranked one of the lowest in the country. I think it's #45 but I may be wrong. I know it's in the 40s out of 50 states. They also got a D grade on the prestigious NAMI report card. Not that I give a crap about NAMI but it's enough for our governor to call a special meeting to hear how Georgia can raise its grade.

One the other side of this great divide is Peer Support, which is ranked number one in the country. Guess which programs the state has decided to cut? Can you say Peer Support? Very good.

The more ridiculous our state becomes, the more obvious it appears before the public. So go ahead, Georgia, DHR, Sonny Perdue, get as ridiculous as possible so that any person with an ounce of common sense can see all the damage you are doing. When the public takes notice, things finally get addressed, and people get voted out of office, appointees get replaced, burned-out bureaucrats get lost. So keep doing what you're doing, Georgia. You are only hanging yourself.

Forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Seriously, they are incredibly blind.

I know why this is happening! The people who are in charge of the mental health system, the policy makers, the doctors, nurses, case managers, and even the family members do not believe in the capacity and the intrinsic value of individuals they are supposed to be helping. Not only do they not believe in recovery, but they impose their disempowering beliefs onto some of the most intelligent, compassionate, and creative individuals in the state of Georgia. If only they knew what I know. If only they saw what I see. If only they believed.

But you can't force a belief onto someone else. You can't make a policy saying you must believe in the consumers you serve. This is why I have little hope of the system truly transforming. If changes are going to be made, they will most likely be made outside the system from people who actually get it. And these angels of hope will be offering strong, recovery-based alternatives to some of our most vulnerable citizens. You may even be one of those angels. I know I am.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Jayme. Glad to read that you encountered some "positives" amongst all the BS! Georgia's MH system is a disgrace! I'm grateful to be an outsider at this point....yet still making a difference in people's lives. Peer Support is the way to recovery!

Jayme said...

Sue, it's a good thing you are not working in the state office anymore. You could drown in bureaucracy and be too paralysed to make a difference. I'm glad to hear you're makiing a differemce where you are now.

Mark said...

"If changes are going to be made, they will most likely be made outside the system from people who actually get it"
You are right there as the medical/chemical belief of M.I.-people have no problem with the way things are running now. No problem=no reason to change.

The problem is people want the easy answers of the medical model.

Jayme said...

The medical model is a giant bandaid to cover up the wounds of people who are truly hurting. It never addresses the source of mental illness, which for the majority of people is trauma. Even if HALF of the people have experienced trauma, that's far too many to just drug up and keep silent and incapacitated simply because they have experienced trauma. What if they want to talk about it but all they have is the medical model to turn to? What then?

Anonymous said...

The Trauma Transformation Peer Support training was/is vital - I believe. For me, it was about breaking through the barriers, talking the taboo, telling MY story according to MY experience...and so much more. It was about saying only as much as I felt comfortable saying. It was about exploring MY feelings on my terms. It was about being supported and validated and in community with others who could identify. The inner wounds, the hidden wounds, are all so profound. They can silence us. The beliefs that we take hold of after days, weeks, months, and/or years of repetive negative messages instigate and fuel the minds dis-ease.....they create disorder....they spaun sickness...they devastate our lives. When we are able to speak our truth, whatever that truth may be, we begin to live in harmony with ourselves - our body, mind and spirit. Recovery is possible. Recovery happens! Wellness is achievable. And it is defined and experienced in as many ways as their are people.

Jayme said...

Of course it is vital, Sue. If it were funded, it would be the most powerful and effective peer support program in the state. But trauma is not even on the radar. Would you believe that PTSD is now considered a brain disorder? Yep. Medications are needed to correct the chemical imbalances that trauma causes. So let's just tell all the vets to take a pill and forget what happened to them in Iraq. That's how ridiculous it has become.

Anonymous said...

Jayme, I really enjoyed meeting you and now to watch your recovery video and then read your account of the conference, Wow, you are very courageous. In reading your account of the conference I was struck by your noticing the "dark oppression" of some of the consumers. Once one is labeled "mentally ill" every thing one (like me for example) does is considered therapy. In this world view. if I do good at my job without medications, it's not because my brain is no more or less defective than anyone else's, it's because it's "therapeutic" for the mentally ill to work. I've always enjoyed creative writing. Before I was labeled, people told me to write because I was talented, now to people that know my plight, I'm supposed to write because it's "therapeutic." Having every action I do demeaned and diminished as therapy for a mental defect is disheartening, but having a few folks like you willing to speak out is helpful beyond measure. As for the PTSD is a brain disease crap, I read an article at the Carlat Report blog about how research now indicates that therapy is more helpful for people labeled as having PTSD than drugs. Part of the therapy that works is telling the person that their responses to the trauma are valid and understandable. Imagine that. Here's a link to the article:

Jayme said...

What an incredible article! I just sent it to the Consumers/Survivors mailing list. Thanks for passing that on. I wish I knew who you were so I could thank you personally!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jayme,

I'm Sally the person you had lunch with a few weeks ago at the pizza place. I don't know how to post other than as anonymous. I posted the comment with the Carlat article.

Jayme said...

Hi Sally! Mystery solved. It's good to "see" you on my blog! Your comments were very insightful and validating. You really understand what I am saying. And that article rocked! Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

Mark said...

re:every thing one does is considered therapy.
Just ignore the people who say that, and continue to do what you enjoy.

liberated psych said...

Mad in America is one of my favorite books and I was curious about other bloggers who listed it as a favorite and I came upon your site. Wow, I am blown away. Your video on your own personal experience is wonderful and you are right - A life away from the mental network is an improved life.

You are exactly right about the "day treatment". I participated with it for awhile and once called it "day-care" and was curtly corrected, but that was more accurate than the word "treatment" as it was just a babysitting service with one and only one theme - Stay on your medication no matter what and it is your lifelong problem like diabetes! One lady there had constant mouth motions and I asked the supervisor about it and she dismissed my question. I spent several months writing a story that was a fictionalized account of what happened to me and gave it to the nurse in charge and she handed it back without a comment. I could go on forever about misdiagnosis, excessive drugging, etc, but everyone has their own stories to tell and to tell the truth, thinking about it depresses me.

You are exactly right when you say that your life is not your (correct or not) diagnosis - the diabetics don't think and talk about their insulin levels all day.

The antipsychiatry people believe that there is nothing wrong with psychosis and I guess I believe that the more realistic you see things the better. I actually think there is something wrong when you lose reality and I do not ascribe to the idea that it is a transcendental experience, but other than that, I think the people in this movement are wonderful.

Sorry - this has become rather long.

Jayme said...

Mad in America changed my life and my thinking about mental illness. It was an eye opener. It demonstrates (without meaning to) how history is repeating itself in the mental health system. I have never read a more powerful book.

I checked out your blog. Yay! Another blog to add to my links! It's good to "meet" you!

flawedplan said...

Great post. Thanks for commenting at my place. So it's not just Texas huh. I'm like you, accustomed to being around smart, tough, autonomous and snarky eccentrics, and not what I saw yesterday. I am really at a loss to figure out if these consumers are just broken, undeveloped and not too bright who could have ended up in a cult or jail or whatever but just stumbled into the mental health system. There is temporary comfort in Othering people, but then I recall Syd Barrett, Daniel Johnston and the punk rock genius in my own life who can be heartbreakingly docile, and it's so hard to get to the bottom of that...some say it's the waste of mental illness, others say it's the drugs and oppression in the mh system. And that just sounds so crazy and evil to most people, it's unthinkable that what we think of as "help" means "ruin".

It's hard for ME to assimilate these possibilities and I want to know the truth, imagine how hard it must be for people who have so much invested in the system.

Well I'm glad you understand what I'm going through, maybe better than me, so thanks. I'll be back.

Jayme said...

No, it's not just Texas. It's actually every state at this point, at least that the strong sense I am getting. I remember when I was one of the consumers who lived, ate, and breathed the medical model, believing it was my only hope. It's a programming that stems from the history of psychiatry and from the state of our society, which believes in the medical model for all illnesses. At this point, I don't even buy into the medical model for physical illnesses - only as a last resort. If I let them, the docs would be killing my immune system right now because of MS. Instead, I am choosing to stregthen it. If I die, I will die healthy!

I totally identified with how you were feeling after having a similar experience with the consumers in your area. It is a big mind-fucking experience. I really understand.

Great blog, btw. I have been a subscriber for a while now.