Friday, January 10, 2014

Reflections of my decade of Mental Health Advocacy

     Mahatma Ghandi once said, "First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, then you win!" These words themselves become a microcosm as to what obstacles individuals face as they set out to make positive changes to benefit others. That is what advocacy is all about, and sadly, I discovered others will resist any efforts as we strive for tangible progress to improve the treatment of the mentally ill.
     Since the fall of 2003, when I gave my first speech to a group of psychopathology students at Loran County Community College, and the 500 plus lectures since, I have witnessed the good, bad and ugly of battling a mental illness. Most importantly, it is said that the stigma of the disease is worse than the symptoms themselves. After a decade of work. I can say with certainty that is indeed the truth. However, rather than stigma,  it is time to call it what it truly is; Bigotry!
     As I decided to take part in advocacy, the first steps I took, were in fact, ignored and mocked. Soon, came the strong opposition from the elected officials themselves.
     One significant roadblock for those in need of treatment is the government leaders that should be committed to rebuilding the mental health system, failed miserably. During the past decade, I have contacted, both as an advocate and private citizen; Senators Rob Portman, Sherrod Brown, Congressman Jim Renacci, Speaker of the House Bill Batchelder, State Representative Nan Baker and State Senators Larry Obhof, and Keith Faber. Rather than discover a group with the desire to  understand the needs of those afflicted, I came face to face with characters better suited for a remake of the Children of the Corn movies. None showed any genuine concern for the plight of those in need, and all displayed the behavior of those bought and paid for by wealthy campaign contributors.
     Not to be outdone by these reprobates, there is one Former State Senator who topped them all in ignorance and who, strangely, publicly preaches against that stigma of mental illness. I recall talking to him at a mental health fundraiser questioning his supporting State Representative Nan Baker who has displayed nothing but contempt for those, not in her social economic class. This former State Senator turned mental health advocate coldly said, "there are more important issue than bigotry against the mentally ill." Once again, politics triumphs over empathy and compassion, even from this self-proclaimed advocate.
     Putting aside the individuals in public office, I spent a considerable amount of time speaking in my community, to bring awareness of the dangers of untreated mental illness. Through this effort, I have met some extraordinary people, in schools, civic groups and police organizations.
     With that as a backdrop, I have also discovered that no matter what one accomplishes, there lurks in society, ignorance that is a constant reminder of just how easy it is for others to disparage the one afflicted. Once again,  I can speak from firsthand knowledge. Much of those offensive actions took place in my home county, Medina.
     Many years ago, I proudly served as a member of our community United Way Board. In fact, for a time I was Vice Chairmen of Allocations. It was during this time that I also served on City Council, local Jaycees and other groups. I was extremely active in my community, and always felt a strong sense to give back. Not long afterwards mental illness took over, and I was no longer active. In a surprise to many, I was alone fighting for my life.
     As I recovered, my strong sense of Philanthropy returned and I wanted to once again, give back to those less fortunate. I discovered in the local paper that the United Way of Medina County was now searching for additional board members. With that in mind, I procured an application, filled it out, and waited for a call that never came.
     After several weeks, I contacted the director of the United Way of Medina. I was first told that they misplaced my application. Instantly, the story changed to it was never received. In short order, a third excuse was given, but it was obvious that her true motives for these answers were not going to be articulated. Additionally, because of questioning and discovering her lack of honesty, she suddenly blurted out,; "You have a persecution complex!" At that point, I realized that there is no cure for their stupidity and hung up the phone. It must be pointed out that this individual lacked the qualifications needed to make that ridiculous insult.
     After all the years of advocacy, I speak with conviction that I understand why this conversation occurred.  The true reason for my non-appointment and not being considered for the volunteer position, in spite of the appropriate qualifications, was a fundamental bigotry that groups such as these possess. Like political leaders, they believe  "those people", like the mentally ill are not capable of being part of their moral universe. Sadly, I have witnessed little or no changes in that shallow thinking, even after a decade. Recent attempts to create awareness to the United Way of Medina are now met with my overtures being written off as inconsequential. Once again, these is not cure for stupidity!  
     One person that I cannot get a handle on is Governor John Kasich, and he remains an enigma. His decision not to proceed with the building of a long needed mental hospital in Cleveland can best be described as inhuman. This facility could have been in a focal point in helping many desperate people have their dignity restored and being given the chance at the productive life we all deserve. In the coming weeks, I will be calling for the reinstatement of this hospital, and hopefully some sanity will return in Columbus.
     It is essential to point out that the Governor did prove me wrong on one issue and for that  I am truly grateful. He came out swinging against some of the children of the corn characters I mentioned earlier, and with an end run, he expanded Medicaid for over 200K Ohioans in need. To this, John Kasich deserves all the accolades he receives, and they are plentiful. I can say without hesitation, that his success on this issue will save lives.
     In a nutshell, that is an overview of the roadblocks that myself and many advocates face. It is a crucial time in this country as the public mental health system is in shambles. My hope is that one of the political leaders decides to represent the community in human fashion, and not be concerned about how the lobbyists react. We are struggling to find that leader as it is not likely to come from the ones I have mentioned. Though I am becoming a cynic, and we are far from winning, like many others advocates, we keep pushing forward. As Gandhi once said; "One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds!" Sadly, those odds keep getting greater and greater, and come from the ones that we elected to represent us!

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