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Daniel Fisher addresses the Irish Mental Health Commission, Nov, 2003
I had a great opportunity to share the experiences of the user movement in the US with users and other stakeholders in Ireland, Nov. 11-13th. Mike Watts the coordinator for GROW in Ireland invited me to address the 13th Annual GROW Conference in Dublin. The conference was launched by Dr. Timothy O'Malley, the Junior Minister of Health, in charge of mental health, for Ireland. He encouraged the 150 participants to assist the government in their program to facilitate community integration of institutionalized psychiatric users. He wants to see the mental health system shift from a medical model of symptom reduction to an psychosocial approach based on the goal of full recovery. His talk was a good introduction to my talk on recovery. I presented evidence that people recover based on my own experience of recovery from schizophrenia and the long-term research studies carries out in several countries. People were surprised to hear that someone could fully recover from schizophrenia as there remains the antiquated idea that no ever recovers from it or other forms of severe mental illness. People were surprised to hear that after a diagnosis of schizophrenia I was able to go complete medical school and a residency in psychiatry and have been off medication for 25 years. They were also interested in the Empowerment Model of Recovery developed by the National Empowerment Center. This model is based on principles of recovery which were learned from research done at NEC. The most important of these principles center on the interpersonal qualities of helping relationships such as trust, understanding, and believing in the person and their future. This meaningful relationship allows the person with mental illness to hope and dream and take control of their own life. I concluded the talk by showing how these ideas of recovery can change policy by sharing my experience of being a commissioner on the US New Freedom Commission for Mental Health. I shared how I and a dedicated group of user leaders across the US were able to convince a skeptical group of commissioners that recovery should be an organizing principle of the Commission Recommendations. We were successful beyond our expectations because recovery is stated in the vision statement:" We envision a future when everyone with a mental illness will recover..."Furthermore, recovery principles are found throughout the report. Most important to US users is the concept of nothing about us without us which embodied in the recommendation that consumers should play an important role in planning, evaluation, training, and delivery of services. (a copy of the entire commission report can be downloaded from www.mentalhealthcommission.gov). Julie Watson, GROW Vice President from Australia gave a moving presentation on her recovery. She highlighted the GROW philosophy of peer support and said that helping others helped her in her recovery. Dr. Tony Bates and a former user he had assisted spoke on the importance of mindfulness in recovery from social phobia.
The next day I provided consultation to the Irish Commission on Mental Health. They were most interested in how I involved users in the process of creating the Commission recommendations. I outlined the various venues I used: 1. I stayed in close touch with 60 plus user leaders through an email list. At the outset I elicited their ideas about the most important reforms they wanted. I summarized their ideas and published them in our newsletter and put them on our website.
2. I conducted 2 major hearings of my own at large user conferences. I invited users to give verbal testimony to me and the Commission Chairperson. Each testimony was about 4 minutes and over 50 individuals testifies at each. They were excited to have their words listened to. I assured them that I would tape, transcribe and send their testimony by Email and print to all the other commission members.
3. The commission held 45 minutes of public testimony at each monthly meeting and I ensured good participation of users
4.I established a subcommittee on Consumer Issues and hired an excellent consumer researcher to prepare an evidence-based report. A summary of the report can be found on the commission website. I also chaired a subcommittee on Rights.
5. The commission asked for email suggestions and they received 1200 from users. These were summarized by the commission staff and distributed to members.
6. I set up a panel of user leaders to address the commission in depth on issues of most importance to our community.
I told the Irish Commission that their expert panel should also include at least 2 users leaders because we have insider expertise. In the words of Laurie Ahern, former Co-Director of NEC, "We are the evidence that people recover from mental illness" i also presented the Commission with NEC's four point proposal on how to implement the US Commission recommendations around user involvement in orienting the system to recovery. (Email our office, email@example.com, and we can make the paper available as well as other material).
The following day I was interviewed on an Irish Talk show, Ireland AM. I shared the story of my recovery and said that communicating my feelings was important to my recovery. I told the audience that I as a man had to overcome the cultural norm that men don't show feelings. Crying in front of other people has helped greatly in my healing and recovery.
-- Daniel Fisher