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City affirms choice in mental health treatment, including choice of non-drug alternatives, as a human right

Posted Oct 26 2009 12:00am

The City of Eugene, Oregon just this evening passed an official resolution affirming that it is a human right for people to have choice in mental health treatment, including choice of non-drug alternatives.  It also affirmed the right to treatment oriented toward complete recovery.

I have special reason to be proud of this resolution, as I initiated work on it and my friends and colleagues in Eugene helped get it passed!  Now I hope some of you out there ask your own city councils & other bodies to pass your own resolutions, affirming these same rights.  You can read the text of this resolution here .  You can also find some background and references for some of the claims made in the resolution here .

I also want to describe the process we went through to get this resolution passed, for those who might be curious.    It was a long process, and took a team of people.  It went something like this:

5 years ago a psychiatric survivor named Hugh Massengil got onto the Human Rights Commission in Eugene.  He’s someone who had been in state hospitals for years, with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, then got out and managed to get off the drugs and started questioning what had happened to him and others like him.  He pushed to have a group look into human rights issues in the mental health system.  A subcommittee of a subcommittee was assigned to look into it.  David Oaks of MindFreedom was one of the members of the subcommittee, and he invited me to join after the group had been meeting awhile, and of course there were a number of others, some of them consumers, some providers, some just community members who cared about human rights.

We put on a couple of community forums to discuss the issue of human rights in the mental health system, and then got money from the mental health system to put on a conference – people could attend for free, it was all day, we had 300 people show up (3 years ago), we had a couple of out of town keynote speakers, Judi Chamberlin and Al Seibert, and lots of local people putting on workshops as well.  I thought, with all this attention, we needed something to summarize what we were trying to say to the system as a whole, so I wrote up the first draft of the resolution, got it circulated at the conference, and then we generally circulated it in the community, asking for comments.  We circulated 1000 printed copies, and who knows how many email versions.  They went to all the agencies, and direct to consumers and familiesn in a variety of settings.

The resolution copies we circulated had a “background” sheet with them that gave references for the claims we made in the resolution – you can find that sheet in the link referenced above.  When we got written comments from the community, they were mostly supportive.  We got one comment from a friend of mine, who is pro-medication, that we were knocking medication too much, so we added the sentence about how many people like medication (that wasn’t in the original.)  Only one person wrote in that he was definitely opposed, he was a psychiatrist at the mental hospital in town, he thought the city should have a resolution asking for more money for the mental health system instead because our resolution might steer money away from what he saw as necessary forced treatment.  The higher administrators were actually either supportive or quiet on the issue. 

Then what happened is that our little subcommittee got tired and quit meeting.  The Human Rights Commission forwarded the resolution to the city council, but it just got set aside somewhere, and whenever I asked someone in the Human Rights office about it, they just claimed there was nothing to be done, making various excuses.  But then a new woman was hired by the office, she found out about the resolution and the work that had been done on it, lit a fire under it, and got it officially in front of the city council.  We then were pleased to see our mayor, who is a good woman and also has a relative in the mental health system, throw her support behind the resolution and made it sail through unanimously. 

Anyway, all this took 5 years or so.  It’s not that the mental health system in Eugene is ready to change, it’s just that their way of resisting change is more to dig in and just say they are already doing everything they can to provide choice and work toward recovery, when really they aren’t.  I’m still censored at the county mental health agency where I work part time, not allowed to write emails about mental health issues in general to the psychiatrists, because they are allergic to my points of view.  But those same psychiatrists like to pretend they are quite progressive, so they wouldn’t be seen in public opposing a resolution like this.

We have other plans to move forward toward more real change, this city resolution is just a little moral support toward that change.

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