Re-designing mental Health

I was at a meeting last week to discuss the redesign of the mental health system in Milwaukee County. I had been one of the key informants interviewed by the consultants hired to produce a report  on ways to fix our broken system. Many positive trends can be seen in the way that quality supportive housing has been built to assist people with severe and persistent mental illness live productively  in the community.

Mental health is one of the major responsibilities of Milwaukee county government. The re-design comes at a time when there will be a large turnover on the board of supervisors. And our county executive Chris Abele will be seeking his first full term of office. Boxed into a corner by previous county executive Scott Walker he has faced sniping from right wing Sheriff David Clarke. Clarke seems to think that he is an entity unto himself and no one can tell him anything. Added to that problem is the fact far too many people with mental illness become involved in the criminal justice system. Not the kind of dramatic and violent episodes sensationalized in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel but more mundane things resulting from inappropriate behavior. This can result in being saddled with hundreds of dollars in tickets and killing any chances of obtaining employment.

I have found that having a significant role in society has been a powerful force in my recovery from distress. The change from self doubt to confidence has been profound and one that I constantly seek to share with others. I feel we do people a disservice when we numb their minds to a point where they can barely find the strength to shuffle to a community support program several times a week. At some point mental health needs to mean being out in the world, tending a garden, helping a friend move his or her belongings, sharing a movie and making good choices.

That is why I have been encouraging the consumers I assist to join the conversation about re-designing the mental health system. Although I work in the system, I was never a patient. I never sat in the Psychiatric Crisis Center early in the morning waiting to be seen, although I have heard about people, talked wit survivors and assisted them. Because I am a veteran I had a whole range of alternatives available to me. My unique perspective is valuable to the re-design process, as well. I learned the language about person centered processes with attending Milwaukee Area Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I am excited to hear others passing it along. Implementing the approach will be a whole new animal and one that will engage people in this county for years to come. Now we must roll up our sleeves and get to work on creating a more humane and fair system.



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