The more I learn about our culture and about people who have been psychiatrically labeled, the more aware I am that the misunderstanding of who we really are has become a terrible burden to our own resilience and capacity to become the individuals we are to be. This is why somehow we must draw our communities into two-way discussions, dialogues that help people move from their assumptions about us to embrace the fully human citizens that we are.
Recent legislative proposals at the national level and some of the thinking of people here in our own state reveal that we are totally misunderstood and mis-defined. We are allowed a station just a little bit lower than human when we can be forced into outpatient treatment yet no other “clinical” group can be. Our human right to be our own decision-making agents is threatened by so many policies and certainly even by the advocacy of many in our state and in our country. Yet how can our society expect people to choose to get help from its systems when our dignity and personhood are not fully respected?
If we were indeed fully respected, citizens would not call police for mental health needs. People with mental illness would not have their circumstances worsened by the trauma of the mishandling, and yes, the abuse. If our person-hood were truly respected, we would count on trained mental health teams, including peer specialists, to be our responders if we need help. Research reveals that the outcomes are far better and the cost far less when well-trained, effective mobile crisis teams are the responders instead of police. In Georgia, which relies on mobile crisis services, they only have the police involved 5 to 10 percent of the time as back-up.
The point is, our society is still operating under such old assumptions when we keep ensuring that there is force and policing involved in the lives of individuals who are in extreme emotional or psychological distress. Yet the enforced treatment proponents have not been challenged in intelligent dialogue.
The reason dialogue is important is that it calls for the exchange of ideas. It is two-way and generates respect for all participants in the process. Best of all, it is relational. These are our communities, and we help define the values that will guide them when we all come together to share ideas. Further, the relational aspect allows the possibility that the playing field will be level and not tilted because of misunderstanding or prejudice.
May 4 is “National Day of Dignity and Mental Health.” There will be events in communities across the country, and at this point, at least two here in North Carolina. We are hosting Dignity Dialogues as a method of breaking down barriers and re-informing community members that we are all people whose hopes and dreams should be validated and who should be loved and comforted when we are hurting.
If you are interested in hosting such a dialogue–even a small one, just contact Laurie Coker (firstname.lastname@example.org).