What Defines North Carolina?

North Carolina may have pretty roads and trees and hills and art and beaches and mountains and venerable old neighborhoods and updated, upscaled downtowns (in some towns), but this isn’t truly what defines us as a state.  It is the character of our people.  And this is where the story becomes regrettable.

What we don’t seem to have is self-respect. That is, as a state, we don’t respect our own citizens enough to ensure that all are regarded and valued as people with rights, potential, and the care they need as citizens when they need help. And especially when people have mental illness from which so many more of them could actually recover than do, North Carolina shows a diminished regard for its own. Research suggests that between 20 and 25 percent of us has a mental illness, and with the lack of real parity in health care, our troubling economy and job losses and the disabling nature of the illness at times, citizens who will need help from the state at large come from all demographic backgrounds. Yes, these are our citizens and our neighbors!

But we do not fund sufficient services and we don’t fund the right kind of services.  Worst of all, we have warehoused almost 7,000 North Carolina citizens in facilities that had originally been meant for the “frail elderly.”  This means that within these settings, with VERY few exceptions, there have been no activities planned to promote rehabilitation and recovery.  No psychiatric rehabilitative services.  Poor medication management.  Contracts with psychiatrists who may not even live in the United States.  No private place for a resident to withdraw to (small rooms are shared, as well as ONE dresser in most settings). In at least one of our communities, town fathers tried to pass an ordinance that would prevent residents from being able to walk around in the town unless they had a staff person with them.  WHAT?  These settings are largely unregulated and have so few staff, that ordinance would have been a CRAZY idea, had not an attorney from the Governor’s Advocacy Council written a letter to the town manager  about the unlawfulness of this act!

Yes, this has gone on for years!

What defines North Carolina?  NC CANSO invites you to help re-define our state as one that lets go of old assumptions about persons with psychiatric or other disabilities.  Let’s become a home state that truly does welcome its citizens home and to live the life that living in a real home means.  Let’s look at our citizens in light of their possibilities and hopes instead of defining them according to assumed deficits.  Let’s stop limiting their rights as citizens.

As American citizens, we are to have certain inalienable rights.  In North Carolina, if we are to ensure that life, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness is available to all, then we have some hard thinking and much shared work ahead as we dismantle unacceptable systems and replace them with services that actually cost less and allow people with disability with full citizenship and the right to grow healthier.