I am thrilled to talk to the DRM community this week about something big—really, really big!
As some of you may know, I came to DRM a little over three years ago - only a few days after I graduated from the University of Maine School of Law. Since that time, I have been working as the patient advocate up at Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor. I love my job: there is never a dull moment! As an advocate I spend my days meeting with clients in the hospital and the community to assist them with individual issues like housing discrimination and access to services, training clients and hospital staff regarding basic rights issues, and working with the rest of the PAIMI team on systemic issues throughout Maine’s mental health system.
Far and away, though, the best part of my job is when I get to work with a client to develop their self-advocacy skills. Working with clients to identify solutions to their problems and develop a plan to accomplish their goals is satisfying and energizing every time!
So, I was overjoyed when Kim approached me about 6 months ago to take on a project to help reinvigorate Maine’s psychiatric survivor movement and empower its members to advocacy—by encouraging members of our community to attend the National Association of Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA) Conference in Portland this year! From September 6-9, for the first time ever, NARPA will be bringing its annual conference to Maine! For four days civil rights advocates, attorneys, and psychiatric survivors will explore alternatives to traditional psychiatric treatment, discuss legal theories to address systemic problems, share experiences and develop self-advocacy skills, and fortify the network of individuals affected by and concerned with increased hostility toward and scapegoating of individuals with psychiatric labels.
Strengthening the activist core of the psychiatric survivor movement, through issue education, advocacy skills development, and leadership training is critical for the continued protection of disability rights in this state and nationally. A common observation among psychiatric survivors is that psychiatric treatment is something done to them-- for the benefit of others. At this time, there is a clear genesis for that observation: those making decisions about what mental healthcare will be supported with government funds are responding to the cacophony of concerns issued by distressed family members, overburdened courts, unequipped jails and prisons, and service providers reporting their repeated efforts to do more with less. With so much information available to policymakers, from so many sources, it is easy to overlook the voice that is silenced--that of the individuals receiving the treatment.
Over the past few months, I have been working with community organizations, DRM’s PAIMI Advisory Council, the Consumer Council System of Maine (CCSM), and our supporters to raise funds to send psychiatric survivors and mental health activists to the NARPA Conference. Attendees will kick start their training on how to bring about positive change in the provision of mental health services, how to assess effectiveness of current mental health programs and how to engage leaders and policymakers in productive discussions. After the conference, I will be working to with attendees to continue this engagement—capturing their enthusiasm and empowering them to take action in their community.
If you’d like more information about the NARPA conference, please check out www.narpa.org. There you will find information about workshops, keynote speakers, and conference accommodations. Legal and social work continuing education credits will also be available for many of the workshops at NARPA, if you have questions continuing education, you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. And last, but certainly not least, if you’d like to support our efforts to send psychiatric survivors and mental health advocates to NARPA, you can give here: https://www.gofundme.com/DRM-empower-to-advocacy