Psychiatric Survivors at Mental Health Conference Appeal for Justice!

Justin Dart reports:

By now you have read news reports of the June 7th White House Conference on Mental Health. It was chaired by Tipper Gore and addressed by the President, the First Lady, the Vice President, Mike Wallace, several service providers, family members and people who have experienced psychiatric disabilities. The conference was attended by more than 500 members of government and the psychiatric community.

Not generally reported in the news was an important breakout session on civil rights chaired by Assistant Attorney General Bill Lann Lee and Senator Joe Lieberman, coordinated by Jonathan Young and attended by 40-50 persons. Included were several psychiatric survivor advocates for full self-determination no incarceration, no abuse, no forced treatment, full, free choice.

This group, led by Sally Zinman, Joe Rogers, J. Rock Johnson and others, was so eloquent that, although undoubtedly in the minority, they dominated the dialogue.

Congratulations to these patriots. Special congratulations to Jonathan Young on his outstanding efforts to ensure that a number of strong psychiatric survivor advocates were invited to the Conference, and that civil rights was covered by a breakout session. He deserves a gold medal.

While the Conference could have included far more focus on self-determination and far more advocates for self-determination, it was a strong step in the right direction beginning to bring the subject of psychiatric disability out of the closet.

Our modest victory at the civil rights breakout session demonstrates once again that, united on the offense, even a small number of us can communicate truth with power.

Following is a statement authored by Sally Zinman and others, and signed by several psychiatric survivor advocates who attended the Conference. Following also are the remarks made by Justin Dart, the first advocate speaker at the civil rights breakout session.

Press Release

Consumers/Survivors Speak Out

We Consumers/Survivors at the White House Conference on Mental Health thank the President and Mrs. Clinton, and the Vice President and Mrs. Gore for holding a Conference on issues critical to our survival as people with psychiatric disabilities. We commend them for involving so many of us in planning and attending the Conference because to be effective, all mental health policy making and program planning must involve those served. We want nothing about us, without us. No one else can speak for us. The failure to ask us what we need and what works had led to huge investment in programs that not only do not work well but also can actively harm us.

We urge Mrs. Gore, as the Chair of the Conference, to encourage system wide consumer/survivor involvement from this day forward. This conference is an example that reflects a model of excellence. It must become the norm for consumer/survivor participation in this country.

We Consumers/Survivors urge Mrs. Gore to take a leadership role in eliminating forced psychiatric treatment. Freedom is the fundamental and organizing principle of our country and yet it is still being denied to people with psychiatric disabilities. Recovery cannot occur in an environment of coercion. Therapeutic relationships cannot exist in an environment of coercion. A landmark research study, the Well Being Project administered by consumers/survivors found that 55% of consumers interviewed who had experienced forced treatment reported that fear of forced treatment caused them to reject treatment.

We ask Mrs. Gore to stand with us now against the use of seclusion or restraint. The safety of consumers and professionals should be a paramount organizing principle underlying all system reform efforts and is the first real step towards the elimination of forced treatment.

Consumers/survivors should not be held responsible for being non-compliant to non-existing or harmful services. If voluntary services of the nature that consumers/survivors wanted and needed were available and accessible, the concept of involuntary treatment would be obsolete.

We Consumers/Survivors urge those at the White House Conference on Mental Health to share the vision of a healing-focused mental health service system that offers a wide menu of services which address the needs of the whole person in an environment of freedom, choice and equality. We ask Mrs. Gore to share this vision with us.

Force is not the way to deal with people with psychiatric disabilities. It sabotages the potential of recovery for people with psychiatric disabilities. The consequence of forced treatment is that people avoid the very services they need to survive. Coercion frequently results in violence and abuse to people who are receiving services.

Expansion of forced treatment will not stop noncompliance; damage left in the wake of forced treatment is the reason for noncompliance. Outpatient commitment is a false solution to a complex public policy issue, and it simply will not work. The truth is that many of the services currently available are not helpful to people; government efforts would be better spent on offering an improved array of services that actually promote healing and recovery.

What makes a difference is the scope, flexibility, responsiveness and coordination of community based psychiatric treatment and rehabilitation services.

The Consumers/Survivors attending this Conference hold that traditional mental health services, particularly medication, are not enough, but that additional services such as housing, vocational training and employment, income maintenance, medical care, substance abuse services and rehabilitation are essential for recovery. These services have not been funded in the community to any level compatible to the need. De-institutionalization did not fail; it was never completed.

We urge Mrs. Gore to support expanded funding for community services that address the problems of the whole person and, particularly, self-help programs. Peer support and client-run services, developed by consumers/survivors over the last 30 years, are among most effective community programs. The underlying philosophy of peer support is that the best helpers are those who have experienced similar problems. In client-run programs, people with psychiatric disabilities see others like themselves in positions of responsibility, as role models, and thus have more confidence in themselves. These client designed, client-run programs, in the form of drop-in centers, housing opportunities, crisis teams, advocacy projects and many other kinds of initiatives attract people who have been traumatized and alienated by traditional mental health services.

Recently, isolated incidents of violence around the country are seized upon and publicized in the media and attributed to untreated mental illness. In this way, people who have had psychiatric diagnoses are being scapegoated as targets for societys fear. However, research through the MacArthur Foundation has shown that a label of metal illness does not increase the likelihood of violence.

The fact is that we have an untreated mental health system where it is easier to blame the victims than to help us heal. The real dangers we face are prejudice, discrimination and violence within and outside the treatment system.

Larry Belcher, West Virginia
Gayle Bluebird, Florida
Celia Brown, New York
Jean Campbell, Missouri
Justin Dart, Washington, D.C.
Shelley Eppley, Pennsylvania
Dan Fisher, Massachusetts
Larry Fricks, Georgia
Randolph Hack, Hawaii
J. Rock Johnson, Nebraska
Joyce Jorgenson, Minnesota
Jay Mahler, California
Jacki McKinney,Pennsylvania
Darby Penney, New York
Ruth Ralph, Maine
Joe Rogers, Pennsylvania
Sally Zinman, California


Remarks by Justin Dart, the White House Conference on Mental Health, June 7, 1999, Howard University, Washington, DC




This presidential conference the very fact it is being held is a landmark of progress. Congratulations to the President on this gathering and on his June 4th executive order. Special congratulations to Tipper Gore and Jonathan Young on their hard work especially on their inclusion here and by satellite - of grassroots self-advocates who are not always included in deliberations on psychiatric disability policy.

I am proud to be here today with so many authentic patriots: Jonathan, Bill Lann Lee, Senator Lieberman, Liz Savage, Sally Zinman, Joe Rogers, J. Rock Johnson and many others. Mr. Chairman, Senator, I submit to you for the record statements of a few patriots who are not present. Judi Chamberlin, David Oaks, Janet Foner.

While we have differences of opinion, I believe we are all here to plan, to appeal for, to begin to create an America where every person with a psychiatric disability is empowered to achieve his or her full potential for self-determination and for a life of quality and dignity in the mainstream of society. This empowerment must include families, friends, advocates and service providers, who often share not only the pain and the expense, but also the discrimination associated with psychiatric disability.

I believe this can be done.

  1. By uniting to destroy vicious stigma.
  2. By uniting to expand law that protects civil and human rights. Security, free choices in all things.
  3. By uniting to work toward comprehensive, quality, affordable psychiatric care that gives every person with a psychiatric disability free choice about providers and treatments. No coercion, no forced treatment. Consumer controlled, peer oriented services have been successful. They should be further developed and adequately funded.

Colleagues, this is very personal to me. I have suffered depression. My beautiful mother and three other family members with psychiatric disabilities have taken their own lives rather than face the stigma.

Let us rise above our differences. Let us embrace each other in that most profound love for the sacred value of each human life. Let us lift our eyes to the dream of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. Let us unite in one voice: America, America, join us in keeping the sacred pledge: Liberty and justice for all.

Colleagues, I respect you. I believe in you. I love you.

Justin Dart

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