I have recovered from schizophrenia. My life’s work has been to assist other consumers/survivors in their recovery. I say consumers/survivors because as a group of people labeled with mental illness, we have had difficulty with the universally disliked term , mental patient.
I am one of only a few psychiatrists in the United States who publicly discuss my recovery from mental illness. I have assisted in the formation of a worldwide movement of hope and recovery. This movement was officially recognized in the United States by the New Freedom Commission Report, 2003 . I was a member of that Commission and we recommended a transformation from the existing professionally-directed, maintenance-based mental health system, to a consumer-and-family-driven, recovery-based system. These values appear in the Report’s vision statement, quote ‘we see a future when everyone with a mental illness will recover’, end quote
However, recovery faces a crisis in its transition from philosophy to reality. It runs the risk of being redefined by those who seek to maintain the status quo as mere remission and rehabilitation.
To address this limited vision, true recovery is understood-by those of us with lived experience-as the ability to fully participate in all aspects of civil society as a global citizen. Global citizens are active agents in all aspects of civic life as defined by the rights, responsibilities, roles, and resources that society offers to its members through public institutions and informal associational life. Being global citizens, means we have a voice, both individually and collectively in the important matters of our community.
At the National Empowerment Center where I am the Executive Director we are facilitating recovery through citizenship by developing the voice of consumers at the individual, state, national, and international levels. There’s a few areas that are fundamental when we look at how you empower someone to recover from mental illness and just one of those is Personal Connections: Perhaps the most important first step in becoming an empowered advocate is to get together with other advocates and create a mutual support group among peers with shared experiences, to raise consciousness. This is useful in shifting from the role of victim to an agent of social change.
It is clear that the vitality of work around empowerment and the principles we work towards recovery from mental illness stem from their resonance with a deep-seated human need to be involved in the important decisions affecting one’s life as a whole. We can recognize the effects of alienation from these sources of personal power. US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said “by listening to people I found my voice.” People are motivated when they are recognized as vital sources of power and change. Another US Presidential candidate Barack Obama has motivated young people by saying they are the agents of change. An important element in finding value in one’s life is through helping another person. This undoubtedly is the appeal of peer support. As one peer helper stated, “my deinstitutionalization began when I realized I was of value in helping another person to recover. That undid the worthlessness I experienced from being labeled mentally ill.”
The principles adopted by the US National Coalition of Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Organizations and they are as follows:
First – Recovery is possible for everyone: to recover, we need services and supports that treat us with dignity, respect our rights, allow us to make choices, and provide assistance with our self-defined needs.
Second – Self Determination: we need to be in control of our own lives.
Third – Holistic Choices: we need choices, including a range of recovery-oriented services and supports that provide assistance with housing, education, and career development.
Fourth – Voice: we must be centrally involved in any dialogues and decisions affecting us.
Fifth – Personhood: we will campaign to eliminate the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illnesses.
I am delighted to be part of a newly forming international coalition of consumer groups from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, US, England, Ireland, and Scotland. The group is called Interrelate , this recovery movement is global and universal and because we resonate with people’s humanity we know we are changing the world.
In Australia for the Joining the Dots – Creating Community conference, Dan Fisher was interviewed on three ABC Radio National programs, May 7, 20008.
Breakfast – www.abc.net.au/rn/breakfast/stories/2008/2237653.htm
Perspective – www.abc.net.au/rn/perspective/stories/2008/2235871.htm (transcript above)
Australia Talks – Radio National’s daily talkback program www.abc.net.au/rn/australiatalks/stories/2008/2235668.htm