Coalition seeks mental health consumer ‘voice’ for Oregonians
Source: Mental Health Weekly
A nonprofit international coalition is working with affiliates in Oregon to seek funding to support an office of mental health consumer affairs that it says would offer a statewide “‘voice'” for mental health consumers and what it calls “psychiatric survivors.”
MindFreedom International describes itself as a nonprofit organization that includes 100 sponsor and affiliate grassroots groups with thousands of individual members to support human rights and alternatives for people labeled with psychiatric disabilities.
“During tough times, it’s especially important to support the voice of the mental health client,” David Oaks, director of MindFreedom International, told MHW. “We especially need to be listening to the mental health client and [their] organizations to know where there are problems and to work together,” noted Oaks.
Oaks noted that many states across the country have some kind of support, such as consumer-run organizations, to encourage the empowerment of its mental health clients. “We argue that the vast majority of states have such support,” said Oaks. California and Ohio have consumer liaisons or an office of consumer affairs within the department of mental health, he noted. Oaks suggested that Oregon is one of only a few states without this type of office.
There are presently 53 offices of consumer affairs in states and territories, with some of the offices currently having a vacancy due to hiring freezes, John Allen, special assistant to the commissioner at the New York State Office of Mental Health, told MHW.
In 2007 in Oregon SB 364 passed, which established self-determination as a core value of the mental health system. The legislation established a mental health consumer council, and mandated that mental health consumers sit on advisory committees involving mental health issues. However, there was no funding attached to the bill, said Oaks.
Funding for a mental health council would have been needed to support an office, staff, a newsletter and conferences, he added. “That SB 364 gave us a symbolic victory,” said Oaks. “It actually mandated no funding for that mental health con- sumer council that meets every other month to advise the mental health system.”
Another bill, SB 363 in 2007 would have funded an Office of Mental Health Consumer Affairs, yet it did not pass, Oaks said. “Sen. William Morrisette will re-introduce a bill similar to SB 363, re-tooled, to try to mandate such funds,” said Oaks. “However, because the governor left [funding for the consumer council] out of his budget it will make passing it difficult,” he added.
“We will work on it anyway, as a way to educate legislators and the public about the need to support the voice of mental health clients,” Oaks said.
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski previously met with mental health client organizations earlier this year to pledge support for a statewide office to represent mental health consumers, said Oaks. “Ever since Gov. Kulongoski took office in January 2003, funds have been zeroed out to support the statewide voice of mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors,” he said.
Oaks added, “We’re trying to play catch-up here. Consumer groups want more employment, drop-in centers, technical assistance and socialization programs. This is the 21st century.”
“The governor has promised support and support has to have some kind of funding behind it,” he said. When funding for such an office is not provided in the governor’s 2009 budget, “It’s an extra big hurdle,” said Oaks.
He added, “The governor found a half billion dollars to build institutions [state psychiatric hospitals] and not one dime for the voice of the mental health client, despite the symbolic bill.”
Rem Nivens, a spokesperson for Kulongoski, said that the governor has been a longtime advocate for mental health services. He is currently advocating building a new psychiatric hospital in Salem, said Nivens. The new hospital, he said, will replace one that had been built during the late 1880s.
Oregon, like many states, is going through a severe fiscal crisis, added Nivens. “We’re about $1.2 billion short for 2009-2011 to continue the current services.” Nivens noted that the state is also $140 million short for the current biennium (2007- 2009). “We’ll have to wait and see,” Nivens said, saying any proposed legislation will have to be looked at critically in terms of the budget.
Advocacy, peer support
Oaks indicated that advocacy, employment programs, education programs and peer support services tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to state funding in Oregon. “Our central argument during the economic downturn is the last thing you cut is the most affordable, such as peer support services,” Oaks said.
While the state does have some peer support activity, none of the programs are specifically for the statewide voice of mental health clients, he said. Peer-driven advocacy and support are considered “the bargain of the mental health system,” Oaks noted.
“We are pro-choice,” said Oaks. “Many people choose to take prescribed psychiatric drugs. However, the medical model approaches tend to get the most resources. Those who wish to have non-drug approaches in addition, or as an alternative, are often frustrated.”
Oaks noted that Mental Health America in Oregon last year helped to launch the Oregon Consumer Survivor Coalition, with funding it raised itself, he said. There are also plans for a conference, he added. “Empowerment of the mental health client is important,” said Oaks. “We are all on the same page.”
Calls from MHWto the state Department of Human Resources, which oversees mental health, were not returned by press time.
Action suggested by MindFreedom
Please e-mail to Governor Kulongoski to support funding for the state-wide voice of mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors! Use the Governor’s web form here: