A Writer In Our Midst!

It is exciting to see people who have experienced mental illness arise to represent some of the best thinking about our issues as ‘consumers’ of mental health services. One of those people is our own Bonnie Schell. Bonnie was the chairman of the NC CANSO board of directors until her recent resignation so she could focus her energies on her writing. Before that she was the Director of Consumer Affairs for Piedmont Behavioral Health, now re-named Cardinal Innovations.
And before that role, Bonnie lived in California where she opened a consumer operated drop-in center focused on helping people to find community and recover. During that time, Bonnie participated in an important study (Dr. Jean Campbell), called the “COSP Study.”  (COSP is an acronym for Consumer Operated Service Provider). This study helped to open the door for more development of consumer-developed and operated services across the country.  Bonnie was a contributing writer to a book titled On Our Own Together:  Peer Programs for People with Mental Illness, published in 2005.  It is a “must read” for those who are trying to understand the role of consumer operated centers and services in our communities.
Some might say Bonnie is a feisty thinker and writer.  She is certainly motivated by her respect for rights, recovery, and justice.  She represents well some of the concerns many of us share about the tenets espoused by the proposed H1737, otherwise known as the Murphy Bill.  Just check out this article which was published the other day in the Mad in America web site.
             If you know Bonnie, tell her you are proud to have someone like her hailing from North Carolina!

Truth is Stranger than Fiction!

Laurie Coker could write a book on her experience as a board member of one of our public Managed Care Organizations, but she declines.  For one thing, the plot would be too predictable and unending–who would read it!  On the other hand, sometimes truth IS stranger than fiction!   The fascination of an organization with its own power (and growing it) produces not so subtle actions against some board members, providers, and community stakeholders while giving special attention and benefits to others.  Lessons learned:  1) Public systems are often politically ruled both vertically and horizontally.  This can mean a community can be trapped with a public agency that from which there is little accountability to the persons it is to serve, to their families, and to the community whose taxes are funding it.  2)  “Consumer” advocates, Recovery advocates, and other advocates who believe in social justice and hope must be guiding values of human service, must advocate at local AND STATE levels!   As the fairy tale goes, when an emperor or empress is touting new clothes that the community sees are simply not there, something simply must be done!   The buck must stop somewhere!  Yet no one seems to be able or at least willing to hold some agencies accountable.  Too much at stake politically, it seems.  Time for some crucial conversations and some change in North Carolina!


Now, here’s some great news!  After years of advocacy by consumer policy geeks across our state (including NC CANSO, for sure, who were almost jumping up and down for this!), the Division of Mental Health will be hiring a senior level policy staff who will work directly under the Director of the Division of Mental Health.   Division Director Courtney Cantrell and staff reached out to consumer affairs leadership in New York to give them insight on this specialized administrative role and to give input into the position description.  

Why do we need a Consumer Policy Advisor?
For years, there have been people who are either service users in our public system or who have learned how to live more fully, with their health intact, after having been impacted by mental health-related problems or substance use problems or even intellectual or developmental disabilities who have suffered because of their status.  Such individuals are an extremely important part of our state-wide “mental health community!”   Yet they have been disregarded by people who have held power in their relationships.  Stigma gives us a lowered social status and allows others to look the other way while some have suffered harm–sometimes intentionally–by people employed in this human services system.
A Consumer Policy Adviser is the first and most important step to addressing the inequity that prevents sufficient participation by system uses and consumer advocates in North Carolina.  This person will be able to establish the policy and the structures that will make our public system a safe one for us to be able to contribute, but it will (very importantly) advise how to make it a safer place for service users who may need to address concerns to a responsive and non-punitive party.  The point is, we cannot focus our efforts on recovery outcomes and the power of self-determination adequately until we know we are on firm and welcoming ground.  This statements means no insult to key staff in the Customer Services and Advocacy Office.  Hopefully, this office welcomes this key role as one that will empower them, as well!
I am happy to report that there have been more than 100 people to apply for this position!  WOW!  This speaks well of our state, already!  I am told that Director Cantrell is personally reviewing these applications herself.    So hopefully we can look for good news sometime in May or so?
To learn more about this description, check out this link.