Recovery Conference Inspires Unity, Optimism in Face of Adversity

This year’s “One Community in Recovery” conference on November 14 and 15 was the best of the four that have been held.  First, let me say that for many, the title of the conference has begged the question, “Recovery from what?”  Because anyone living in North Carolina and who cares about the lives of people with mental illness knows there is a lot our collective community has to recover from and on many levels.  And then there is the future.

The future of our public mental health system rests more and more on the shoulders of people outside of Raleigh who can unite and give solid messages to those making decisions in Raleigh AND in our local systems and communities.  Never has advocacy from people who have lived experience with mental illness yet who have recovered, people who use services, family members, people who provide services, and people who administer them been more important.  This advocacy must be different in nature because it is based in shared understanding of issues from all the various perspectives above.  This shared understanding impacts ideas and strategy.  It also means that advocacy must become working advocacy, and not just spoken ideas.   That is, advocates of all backgrounds need to be in many important discussions that are taking place related to managed care, the DOJ/NC settlement, health care integration, etc.  There is simply too much at risk for people to remain passive.  Too many things just won’t work right if we, including all reading this article, do not get involved in all the ways we can.  North Carolina must put aside its past and come of age.  It is time for participatory change, whereby all impacted by new forces come to the tables where changes are planned and decisions are made!

I think the “recovery conference,” as the recent event is commonly called, brought many of its participants to the realization that these times are our most urgent but that together, we could help shape communities and systems that focus on people’s strengths and potential, thereby fostering growth and recovery!  I think that we saw that enough people with diverse perspectives share the same vision and are willing to exert new effort toward a different future that we may be finally reaching a tipping point in North Carolina.  If our minds are bent on helping people to grow and recover rather than on maintaining people within the scope of minimized symptom array, this will impact our state’s culture, no doubt.  For by focusing on a people with hope and respecting their possibilities, we have simply elevated their humanity.  What a culture shift that would be!

Topics that Reflect Recovery Movement in North Carolina  

The conference opened with an exciting and practical challenge by Harvey Rosenthal from the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.  Rosenthal has been aware of the systemic changes in North Carolina for some time, and he is keenly aware of the new requirements of the Health Care Reform.  Further, New York’s own Olmsted-related challenges in the past three or four years are similar to our recent involvement by the Department of Justice because of North Carolina’s historic institutional bias.  This having been said, Rosenthal articulately pointed out how North Carolina was in the middle of the “perfect storm” that will result our state’s best opportunity to design a system based on desired outcomes of recovery and personal empowerment.  IF WE ADVOCATE.  He also pointed to how the development of more distinctly defined peer roles in the system and the heavier utilization of peer support in various capacities can be one of the strongest characteristics of the system of the near future.  He even spoke to the important role of consumer operated services in an effective, efficient mental health system.  Again, WE MUST ADVOCATE!

The second keynote presenter was Lori Ashcraft, one of the co-founders of the Recovery Opportunity Center in Phoenix, Arizona (Recovery Innovations is associated with this, if you are familiar with R.I.)  She spoke of the role of adversity in developing personal resilience and leading to growth and recovery.  She shared her own personal story of recovery and spoke of how the services approach of her company grew out of taking risks on relationships with people, seeing their strengths in spite of the adversities in their lives and focusing on their personal hopes and desires as keys to helping them recover.

Listening to attendees of the conference, I heard so many reflections on things learned from both Rosenthal and Ashcraft, as if the timing of our state’s need and the messages by these speakers could not have been better.  I am so glad these two joined us all in Winston-Salem this year.  But I cannot minimize the information shared by our in-state presenters who were consumers, providers, LME/MCO staff, and others who just care.   If I had more space, I’d love to list some of these very timely topics that were presented!  I realized that so many of us have grown in our thinking about recovery, about person-directed lifestyle and services, about the need for more fully informed and active advocacy, and about the role of peer support.  In fact, during a consumer advocacy caucus during the evening of the first day, a big focus became how to elevate and define peer support so that it becomes a characteristic service in many places in our public system.  There will be more peers involved in systems advocacy, soon, and if providers and others affirm these peers in their knowledge and advocacy, we can help strengthen the system in ways that will benefit all the system’s participants!

I hope you will look for information about the recovery conference as it comes out next year!  There will be more happening, more need to get together then than even now!  Look on our web site for information as it comes available but put it in your mental calendar as you consider education possibilities for 2013.  We need for you to be there, too!