Over 50 people attended the Southeast Regional Community Support Program (CSP) Committee meeting on October 7, 2013 expecting to discuss mental health strategic planning with the state’s top administrator of mental health, Deputy Secretary Dennis Marion.
Instead, they were asked to give their opinions about involuntary commitments under the current Mental Health Procedure Act. To be sure, it was a lively, thought-provoking and emotionally charged discussion.
And, according to Secretary Marion, for him it was enlightening.
In surveys of the audience using electronic tally devices, individuals were asked to be the delegate, or county appointed mental health review officer, in scenarios depicting situations where a decision needed to be made on a petition to involuntarily commit someone. Responses from the audience who represented the five southeastern counties, weighed in on the side of civil liberties, with the majority saying no to forced treatment without more information. Secretary Marion said he was surprised by this result, saying it was the opposite of a response by another group of similar stakeholders in a different region of the state.
But it’s not a surprise to longtime advocates. Part of the controversy surrounding the commitment law is how it’s interpreted. Advocates across the state are calling for mandatory training for mental health review officers to ensure statewide application of the law.
Secretary Marion said he was preparing to talk to the PA General Assembly the following week to speak about the commitment law and he intended to introduce the stigma and trauma that is suffered by the individual being committed. He heard from individuals at the meeting about their humiliating firsthand experiences – the exacerbation of symptoms triggered by being handcuffed and hauled away in front of neighbors, families, friends or co-workers. Sometimes, a blackout is experienced and the person wakes up to find themselves in restraints, sometimes naked under a bed sheet in a strange room in an unknown location.
Nine months on the job after spending most of his career in administrative roles, Secretary Marion said, “I need to listen to you to get a feel of what it’s like. I didn’t think of trauma.”
Advocates at the meeting implored the Deputy Secretary to find alternatives to police – to eliminate the lights, sirens, handcuffs, the uniforms – and provide well-trained mobile crisis teams, peer specialists and other recovery modalities to engage individuals and divert them to treatment.
But this disconnect and disservice in the mental health system is but one of many examples advocates could produce to enlighten those who control the future of mental health services in the state. Community services and infrastructure need to be strengthened as the availability of state hospital services decrease and the need to divert people from jail into treatment increases.
“You can’t do prevention if you don’t have supports,” said Nancy Schieble, Bucks County CSP Coordinator.
Sandra Watson, consultant for HopeWorx Inc. added, “The reality is we need money.”
Bill Holt, from Horizon House in Philadelphia, said behavioral health care is becoming a business.
“It’s about compliance and productivity,” Holt said. “My staff is dying off. The system is running them ragged. They are running after numbers now.”
But increasing funds for mental health budgets was not something the Secretary saw as the answer.
“We have to find a way to make it sustainable from a cost perspective,” Secretary Marion said. “Money alone without strategic planning won’t help us.”
So, advocates ask, where was the strategic planning? It didn’t happen at the SE Regional CSP Meeting.
By: Kathie Mitchell, Director of Community Advocates of Montgomery County, PA
The Community Advocates are pleased to announce they are partnering in the “I am the Evidence Campaign.” The ITE Campaign is essentially sharing our recovery stories or ” success stories” where personal stories of mental health recovery will influence positive outlooks for others in recovery.
MHAPA (Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania) and Support the Journey have announced a new project of the ITE Campaign called the FACES OF MENTAL HEALTH RECOVERY PUBLIC ART PROJECT. The art project was created to celebrate people who are the living Evidence of mental health recovery, as well as those individuals, organizations and communities that offer support and hope along the journey.
The project uses photography to engage individuals, organizations, and communities in the support of recovery. During a hands-on workshop led by a local artist in Perry County, people in recovery and individuals from their support networks learn photography skills and how to tell their personal stories. A public exhibition will be held of large-scale, black-and-white portraits and testimonials generated from the workshop.
The exhibition started on Oct.11, 2013 during the Mental Illness Awareness Week and will remain through Nov.22, 2013. The Perry County Council of the Art is hosting this event. This campaign invites others to either give their testimony of recovery or simply view others as inspiration to their own recovery. In this you may also celebrate the individuals, organizations, and communities that supported you in your recovery. Are you the evidence of recovery? To find out more about “I am the Evidence” please go to www.itecampaign.org. Remember to check out “I am the Evidence” and the Faces Of Mental Health Recovery.