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A little bragging :)

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon

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The link above will take you to the ITE/MH Campaign site, specifically a page where a recovery story I wrote and submitted to them was posted.  The story is called, “Recovery is a Journey, Not a Quick-fix“.  In it I offer a little insight into where I’ve been, and some of the things I’ve learned through some of my struggles with mental illness.  The piece was written and submitted to ITE/MH on July 14, 2011 by me.

I was using writing on that day, not only to meet an obligation that I had committed to, but also as personal medicine.   I was a little frustrated and stressed, having had to send some obnoxious people away that had pretty much invaded my peaceful time on my porch that morning, but who had also been very pushy about their beliefs and didn’t seem to understand that I truly wasn’t interested in what they were offering.  As a result of the interaction with them, I was stressed, frustrated, and my mind was running a million miles a second.  I went into what I call a “stress cleaning mode”  where I take the energy from stress and frustration and I guess you could say I convert it into something positive.  I washed 5 loads of laundry and 3 loads of dishes, and while I waited for the washer/dryer or dishwasher to run its cycle, I worked on the recovery story.  By the end of the day not only did I manage to wash my bedding, and all my dirty clothes, while also getting caught up on my dishes, and having met an obligation I said I would meet, I was MUCH calmer feeling and my mind had settled to a quieter pace and I was able to return to enjoying some peaceful time on my porch.

I would really urge you to check out the ITE/MH Campaign website, it is a new site, but I know that at least one of the people involved with it has worked to make positive changes in the mental health community for many years.  ITE/MH stands for “I’m The Evidence / Mental Health”  it is a campaign to raise awareness that people can and do recover from mental illness,  and to recognize some of the people who show their personal recovery in a way that benefits not only the person, but those around them.  For me, this blog is just one of the ways I show my recovery journey, with my hope being that the things I learn and share here will benefit someone else or even more than one person.

I would love it if my readers could take a moment to checkout the ITE/MH Campaign site, it is a new site, but it is very well done, and you can not only read my little story I submitted there, but there are other stories submitted by other folks as well.  The site also would give you a better understanding of what they are doing then what I’ve offered here.

By posting this info, I’m not getting anything in return, it is simply me doing what I do and linking my readers to resources or information that I hope each person will find something of benefit to them in the process.  Enjoy!

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

I know the title of this entry isn’t politically correct, but I’m writing about my thoughts about the movie by that name.

Oddly, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” is one of my favorite movies of all time.  I have it on DVD and pop it in from time to time.  I think for me, the main reason I like it so much, is that it reminds me of what things are like in the mental health system under the medical model, where there is a very well defined split between staff and patients, where the staff pretty much hold the attitude that they are all knowing in regards to what is best for the patient without asking them what they think or even want to have happen in their life.

When I first saw this movie in the mid 80’s, I sat there thinking to myself how close to home it hit in many ways to my own experiences with being hospitalized.  I could identify with various characters in the movie and identify things they were doing with things I had seen in people I had come in contact with.  I had sat in group sessions where we sat in chairs in a circle discussing why we were inthe hospital or whatever happened to be brought up as a topic by the staff person running the group.  I hated that particular aspect, because I never felt that sharing my feelings with strangers was all that helpful.  I had seen this group be silent where nobody spoke, other times I saw it become explosive, much like what is seen in the movie “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”.  For granted, the scene where the girls are smuggled in, and the ward gets drunk is something that is far from likely to happen now or that I could see happening in the past, it does make for a good story despite the inaccurracy of it.

The movie also reminds me that there was a time when ECT and Lobotomies were frequently used to control patients who didn’t conform or were considered to be violant or in some cases untreatable.

In the 80’s, ECT was still pretty common, but not to the degree it had been.  In fact one of the psych units I was on in the 80’s had a room designated for doing ECT I remember it had a big sign on the door “ECT Treatment Room” it was a room that nobody talked about and if you asked about it you weren’t told much by staff beyond that it was “used for specialized treatment”, so it was kind of a taboo subject on that unit and for me the room kind of gave me an uneasy feeling.  Thankfully, the unit has different management and the ECT room has been dismantled and is now used as an office where folks go to see the Psychiatrist.

In all I have seen many changes in the mental health system, many I have experienced personally since the 80’s some good, others not so good, but in all, I find that my experiences have allowed me to realize that recovery is taking a greater foothold and that what I think or feel about what I want to achieve through my treatment is taken into consideration.  There are times when I get frustrated and feel like I’m not being heard and those are the times I pop in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” just to remind myself that things could be worse, and that they are always changing and evolving and hopefully improving.

“Former addict finds support on road to recovery”

This article found in the Philladelphia Tribune originally printed on October 14, 2008 can be found in its original format at … http://www.phillytrib.com/tribune/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=501:recovery101408-hlt&catid=9:the-philadelphia-tribune&Itemid=20

The article describes the change that has transpired in the life of a person who has a dual diagnosis since she has begun her road to recovery.  She now works a a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) in the agency where she once sought help herself.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008 02:00
Former addict finds support on road to recovery

  Yoland Smith, a former behavioral health consumer, is now a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) through the Recovery Transformation program and now helps others in the recovery process.  — ABDUL R. SULAYMAN/TRIBUNE CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER

Ayana Jones
Tribune Staff Writer

Yolanda Smith has come a long way.

After 31 years of abusing alcohol and drugs, the 47-year-old Kensington resident never thought that she would overcome her addictions. Two years ago, she decided that it was time to seek help and begin the road to recovery.

“I was no longer afraid to seek help,” says Smith who was also coping with bipolar disorder, a condition that she believes helped fuel her addictions.

She sought out the services of COMHAR Inc., a provider for the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Mental Retardation Services. Smith was able to turn her life around by participating in the agency’s recovery program. She credits the program with helping her to recover from substance abuse, boosting her self-esteem, becoming a better mother to her 22-year-old son and enabling her to receive college training. Today she serves as a certified peer specialist and facilitator at COMHAR where she helps other addicts to recover.

“Recovery is possible,” Smith affirms.

Smith was one of a group of speakers who shared their stories during a press conference held at the Philadelphia Recovery Community Center at 1701 W. Lehigh Avenue. The site is the first of several planned centers that will offers a range of services including counseling, support groups and education.

Behavioral Health Department officials held the event to highlight sweeping changes in the way that it provides services to those who are battling both addictions and mental illness. Under the initiative, the department is moving from just providing treatment to clients to focusing on helping them recover.

“Transformation is about how we are evolving our system to focus on people who have behavioral health problems and substance abuse disorders,” says DBHMRS Director Arthur Evans.

“Inherent in every community is the wisdom to solve its own problems. I think that is what is at the heart of the recovery transformation — that it is a movement that is built on the idea that ‘you can do it, we can help.’”

With that in mind, the recovery transformation initiative focuses on providing care to consumers that promotes long-care recovery, resiliency and self-determination.

Evans referred to the transformation as the most sweeping change in the field since thousands of mentally ill people were release from institutions during the 1970s deinstitutionalization wave.

One of the core aspects of recovery transformation is the certified peer specialist initiative. Through the program, current or former behavioral health consumers are trained and certified to become peer specialists. As of September 49 graduates of the certification training have been employed as peer specialists.

Through a network of community-based provides, DBHMRS provides a full range of mental health and substance abuse treatment for approximately 100,000 consumers annually.

Live from PMHCA Conference

  Day 2 is half over here t the PMHCA Conference.  I forgot to mention that this is their 20th conference they’ve held, but that there was a year when the Alternatives Conference and the PMHCA conference were close together so the PMHCA conference was canceled.  So, if you want to be technical, this is the 21st conference scheduled, but the 20th to be held.

  After breakfast today, Ron Bassman, the keynote speaker spoke on his life experiences as both a patient in the mental health system in the 60’s and later a professional.  He offered many quotes of inspiration, read excerpts from his book, and in general built on how we need hope in order to overcome our obstacles, and that no matter what label society may put on us, we’re still people of value.  It isn’t what we are labeled as that makes us who we are, but rather what we do to overcome the lable that makes us who we are.  I’m going to be getting more information from Ron Bassman at  some point, and when I do, I will include some of his words in a future blog entry.  I left his presentation feeling encouraged and uplifted and in a sense as though I had received new marching orders to go forth and proclaim hope and encouragement to others while embracing them myself so that I can build on these things in my own life.

  We broke off into workgroups after Ron Bassman was done speaking.  I attended one on, “The Many Doors to Consumer Empowerment”.  I received a hardcopy of a document that explains how various organizations work together to form the mental health system, in addtion to explaining various accronyms, such as CSP, C/FST …etc.  the group was encouraged to get involved in the various plans such as County Mental Health Plan, and Service Area Planning.  Other areas we were encouraged to get involved in included, CSP at the local, regional, and state level if possible.  Also we were encouraged to ask questions about the various plans that ultimately dictate what will be implimented into the menal health system, or what will be dropped.  We should find out why service X is available in one part of the state and not in our part of the state in addition to finding out what we can do to take an active role in molding and shaping a Recovery Oriented mental health system.

  In addition to info I learned in the workshop, I’ve gathered a bunch of handouts from a wide variety of places since I arrived here.  I hope to offer at the least summaries of some of the info so others might benefit from it at well.

  For now, I’m signing off but will be posting more either later today or sometime tomorrow.


New Pages Added

   I’ve added a couple new pages to the blog, the first is, “Peer Specialists” which is in it’s infancy, but I hope to offer enough resources to offer a good starting point for learning what a Peer Specialist is and how they fit into the Mental Health system.  Peer specialists are a newly mandated aspect of the mental health system in Pennsylvania.  I’m not sure of the exact date it was mandated, but I estimate that it has been within the past year to two years, based on rumors I’ve heard over the past couple years, but will offer more details as time goes on.

   The second page I added is about the Recovery Model.  This model shows a lot of promise for Mental Health Consumers, not only in Pennsylvania, but nationwide as well.  It is pulling away from the medical model wich says that Consumers are patients and will always be patients, and has begun to create the sense that mental health Consumers are People and should be treated as people who have concerns, needs, and can indeed grow beyond their mental illness if given the chance.

   Both pages are new, so there isn’t a lot on them, but I’m working to gather more information on both.  My friend I mentioned towards the beginning said she would share some information she’s received about Peer Specialists, and I hope that with that information, I’ll be able to offer more solid information then what I’ve offered so far.

  This article is hot off the presses, and can be found in today’s issue of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review dated December 17, 2007.  It offers an opposing view of a group that is against the closing of Mayview State Hospital.  Concerns being raised include the question of whether Consumers discharged from Mayview during the closure process will receive adequate care to meet their needs at a level that will help them to remain stable and begin to integrate into the community.  Other concerns were raised as well about the possibility that former patients could end up in the criminal system instead of receiving mental health care.

  I don’t know what the answer is, but having been a patient in a couple different state hospitals as a teen and young adult in the 80s and early 90s I know that there are folks in these places that may not be able to survie on their own and will ultimately need more intensive treatment or longer-term treatment then what is available in short-term psychiatric units where the goal is to stabilize someone and get people setup with appropriate support services, then discharge them before the person’s insurance runs out.  Many do well with this, but there are some that need longer-term care then what short-term facilities can offer.  In some ways I feel like the mental health system might be taking drastic measures in order to correct it’s problems.  I do not believe in warehousing mental health Consumers, and am very pro-recovery model, but I also realize that the state hospitals provide longer-term care that isn’t available in the short-term facilities.  I also know that there are Consumers who will do anything possible to get re-admitted to State Hospitals, because they view it as home after going from a highly controlled environment to living in the community where they in many ways are left to fend for themselves, being checked on by caseworkers who are often burdened by enormous caseloads which means less time for each person on the caseload.  If State Hospitals are closed, there needs to be extra support for these folks initially, then as they get their footing in the community, this support could be decreased.  The problem with this is that counties are often struggling to support existing support services and in order to provide extra supports to folks who have been in a sate hospital, they would need to expand on existing services by reducing the caseload of caseworkers and other support professionals.  In order to expand services and lower caseloads, it boils down to an issue of funding.  without funding, there is no way to enhance services.  This is why I would suggest that people take a look at Representative Frankel’s bill that if I’m understanding it correctly would allow the money used to provide services for a Consumer in a State hospital to follow that Consumer when they are discharged and begin residing in the community.  This would allow the county the Consumer came from to provide at least a portion of the extra support needed by many who are discharged from state hospitals and hopefully increase the success rate of the Consumers being enabled to survive in a less structured environment with a decreased risk of them needing to be re-admitted to a state hospital.  I know for myself, if I didn’t have the supports I’ve had over the years, I would probably be a statistic on the rolls of a State Hospital population.  Of course I have also been known to ask for an increase in my services when I feel like I’m starting to relapse, and then will gradually have those services decreased as I re-stabilize.  I know many Consumers who won’t ask for help because they view a relapse as a failure on their part, which I think could be resolved at least partially if Consumers were taught that a relapse can be a learning experience in which the skills they learn during the relapse can be used to help prevent future relapses.  Changing the way professionals try to think FOR the Consumer into a situation where the professionals GUIDE or ENCOURAGE the Consumer to build on strengths as described in the Recovery Model, it would also help to decrease the need for State hospitals, but I still think there is a portion of the Mental Health Consumer population that may not make it in the community and those are the ones who will be impacted the most by the closure of state hospitals.

  At any rate, here’s the article I started writing about in this entry.

Candlelight vigil highlights closing of Mayview

By Mike Cronin

Monday, December 17, 2007

The wind-driven snow blew horizontally at times but didn’t prevent two dozen people from attending a candlelight vigil Sunday for deceased former patients of Mayview State Hospital, a facility for the mentally ill.

They gathered at Fairview Park Pavilion in South Fayette to oppose closing the hospital and to emphasize the gravity of their cause, said Thomas De Bruin, president of the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania, which represents Mayview workers.

“We thought about canceling it,” De Bruin said, “But it’s too important not to do it.”

Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare officials announced in August that Mayview would be closed by December 2008. The hospital’s 225 residents will be moved into community-based facilities, while prisoners in forensic units will be transferred.

“We’re still on target for closure,” Stacey Witalec, a department spokeswoman, said in an interview last week.

She said state officials halted patient discharges last month for two weeks. That decision followed the deaths of two former Mayview patients. The body of Anthony Fallert, 24, was recovered by police from the Monongahela River on Nov. 5. Police say Fallert fell or jumped from the Birmingham Bridge on Oct. 29, the day before his birthday. Also on Nov. 5, Ahson J. Abdullah, 58, died after being hit by a train in Braddock.

The pavilion that was the site of yesterday’s rally is about 50 yards from the cemetery for what was known as Pittsburgh City Home and Hospital before it became Mayview.

Dona Curti, a Mayview pharmacist and union member, urged Gov. Ed Rendell to ensure Mayview patients continue to receive appropriate care after the hospital closes.

“I’m worried that when they get out in the community, they won’t get that,” she told the group.

Mayview — originally opened by the city of Pittsburgh in 1893 and converted to a state hospital in 1941 — is being shuttered as part of the state’s effort to move patients from institutions to less-expensive community-based settings, according to Estelle B. Richman, secretary of the Department of Public Welfare.

Mental health practitioners have criticized the decision to close Mayview. They say many communities don’t have equivalent facilities and former patients could end up being taken care of by law enforcement officials in local jails.

The resident population at Pennsylvania’s eight state hospitals has decreased by nearly 60 percent, from 4,934 in 1994 to 1,927 in June. Eleven state hospitals have been closed since 1979.

Mayview, which serves Allegheny, Beaver, Greene, Lawrence and Washington counties, has 225 residents and a staff of 502, with an operating budget of $63 million.

More than 50 criminal patients are housed in a forensic unit at Mayview. The forensic unit will move to Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County.

Mike Cronin can be reached at mcronin@tribweb.com or 412-320-7884.

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