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On the mother bear community action network- report from the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care

Posted Oct 04 2011 2:40pm



One of the pilot projects talked about at the Foundation for Mental Health Excellence was
the “Mother Bear Community Action Network.”  It is an idea founded in the vision of Lizbeth Riis Cooper and Don
Cooper founders of the Cooper Riis Healing Community in Asheville, North Carolina.  They  describe it as a nationwide network of
families banding together to build in their local communities of support where families can find the resources, encouragement, and support to help anyone in their family struggling with emotional pain, suffering, or trauma to find the
path and personal strength to transform their life into one of real and lasting
recovery.   The goal is to help families know they are not alone and that in sharing their experience, wisdom, and hope
with families facing similar challenges that they enrich each other.  MBCAN (Mother Bear Community Action Network)
does not find its answers in drawing artificial distinctions between caregiver and consumer.  It does not structure
family interaction based on who has what diagnosis.  It realizes that we are all more than what we
are called and that the strength of family love, commitment and support can do things that  are not available in many
other contexts.  It is one of the first models that I have found that tries to take the recovery model and notions like
peer support and apply them to the family context.

The Coopers write, “Mother Bear Community Action Network is a catalyst for transforming a
failing mental health care system to a heart-centered model of care that safeguards human rights, dignity and hope.
This new paradigm recognizes human emotional suffering as a natural response to pain and trauma rather than a pathological syndrome that isolates and stigmatizes children  and adults in need.”

MBCAN believes that human suffering can not be reduced to some biological insuffiency.  Everything about us has a biological component, but nothing about us is simply that component.  Human suffering, most of what are called mental health issues occur within the context of our individual lives and the greatest hope for change, for growth, for transformation and ultimately happiness and satisfaction reside within the ways we use the strengths and opportunities of that context to develop new skills, alter the ways in which we make sense of the world, build stronger relationships, and find a source of meaning and purpose in life.

MBCAN believes that hope is a real and a possibility in the lives of even the most distressed of us.  It also believes that
families matter, that they really matter and for many of us can be the agent of that hope.  The experience of many
families is that the mental health system is fundamentally discouraging, rather than encouraging.  People are told that
they or a loved one has a mental illness that will likely only respond to medication, that this illness will be a chronic, and the results ultimately
catastrophic to the quality of life. They are told to be realistic and life is defined as getting used to the limited reality available to you.  Hope is seen as illusory.  As a consequence  courage becomes irrelevant.  Instead of love motivating you to greater effort and commitment love comes only to make you vulnerable to the lasting disappointment of the experience of “mental illness.”  Families learn it doesn’t matter how much you care.  Nothing really changes.

This is not to say professional help doesnt matter.  It does.  It is the belief of MBCAN that the type of supportive community they are talking about is not at all in oppositional to professional care, but an idea that allows professional care to be part of a truly transforming experience.  MBCAN believes in utilizing all effective resources in the caring and humane fashion possible for those people needing help and assistance.

MBCAN is based on the notions of education, support and empowerment.  Families need to learn the tools and skills
to help their loved ones cope with mental distress and suffering.  They must learn the options and resources
available to them.   They also need to know that they are not alone and that a source of real support is available to
them.  They must also  learn they can be a real source of support to others.  And finally they must learn they
have the power to act in effective ways that can alter not only the lives of their loved ones, but of themselves and ultimately make their communities better places to live for everyone.

MBCAN is at this point in the beginning of development.  Curriculum is being written.  Ideas are being further developed.  The goal and hope is that in time it can become a powerful and effective force towards the development of a more humane
and human mental health system.  It is only one idea that the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care is
interested in, but it is one I am particularly excited about.  If you are interested in learning more about
MBCAN, if you feel like you would like to be part of helping your community tobe a community of support  please let me
know.  As this program gets closer to the point of implementation I am sure the Foundation will be actively seeking
people who might be interested in participating and becoming part of what promises to be such a groundbreaking effort in the mental health field

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