Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) announces that Laurie Ahern, psychiatric survivor, has been voted by their board of directors to be MDRI President. MDRI is a sponsor group in MindFreedom International working for mental health rights and alternative mental health.

June 22, 2009

Laurie has been an inspiration to me.  She made the difference in my decision to dedicate my life to advocacy.  After my father died from lack of care in a psychiatric facility, I did not know if I could confront these tragedies every day.  Knowing Laurie survived abuses in a hospital – and went on to be such an accomplished activist, a writer, and a friend to me and so many others struggling to overcome stigma and discrimination – I knew I had to take that road myself.

Sehnaz Layikel, Turkish activist

Washington, DC – Mental Disability Rights International’s (MDRI) Board of Directors has named Laurie Ahern as MDRI’s President. Ahern has been with MDRI for seven years, during which time she has overseen the day-to-day operations of the organization as the Chief Operating Officer.

As a former managing editor and investigative reporter of several newspapers and freelance writer for the Boston Globe and Associated Press, she has brought a fresh approach to MDRI’s human rights reporting.  As lead author of MDRI’s reports on Serbia (2007), Romania (2006),and Turkey (2005), she brought worldwide attention to the concerns of children and adults with disabilities.

“By electing Laurie as President, we are recognizing her for the leadership she has established in the international human rights field over many years.  It is our hope that, from this new position, she can be an even more effective spokesperson for MDRI and for the rights of people with disabilities around the world.” — Clarence Sundram, MDRI Board Chair

“I am proud of our shared leadership of MDRI. Ever since Laurie joined MDRI, the impact of our work has greatly expanded,” said Eric Rosenthal, MDRI founder and Executive Director

“Ahern’s work in Turkey brought an end to the use of ‘unmodified electroshock’ (ECT without anesthesia), a painful and dangerous practice to which some 15,000 people were subjected every year prior to MDRI’s report.  As a result of Ahern’s work documenting abuses in Serbia’s orphanages – including children left tied down to cribs — the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child chastised Serbia for practices of ‘torture or ill-treatment.’

“Ahern has been particularly committed to supporting the development of advocacy by people with disabilities in each country she has worked.  “We are particularly proud of Laurie’s work in Kosovo, where she has helped establish support groups made up of people with psychiatric and intellectual disabilities.  With her support, these self-advocates have taken up human rights policies at a national level,” said MDRI Executive Director Eric Rosenthal.

Prior to joining MDRI, Ahern was the co-founder and co-director of the National Empowerment Center, Inc. (NEC), a national, federally funded recovery and technical assistance center for people diagnosed with mental illness and their families. She was the editor of the award-winning NEC newsletter and co-created the Empowerment Model of Recovery and the PACE model, a non-coercive alternative to traditional mental health services.

Her work has been featured in many professional journals, in the media, and has been translated into many languages. She is the recipient of the National Mental Health Association’s Clifford Beers Award and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law’s Advocacy Award. Ahern is a founding member and board member of the International Network Towards Alternatives and Recovery (INTAR).

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