Saturday, June 13, 2009

be the change you want to see

Had lunch today with other officers of my NOW chapter (National Organization for Women).
The discussion was interesting and productive, so it was a worthwhile experience. I am excited about the prospect of planning activist work within this group, and I like getting to know other members who are all so knowledgeable and also passionate about women's rights, which is a subject that has been dear to my heart since I was born. We are planning on showing the movie, "Sicko" in a couple months, as part of the call for a national healthcare plan in this country.

Directly after that I went to a meeting for the consumer council of a mental health organization I am part of. I cannot say that meeting was as productive as it could have been, but I did present an idea I've been thinking of for a long time. I want to collect books and magazines and games and give them to the local psychiatric wards. The hospitals I've been in here (and I've been in all of them) had no reading materials or things to do. The last one I was in was particularly drab, and that's when I came up with this idea.

I want to actually put this into motion, but when in a group of people, sometimes it's difficult to get things done. I don't feel like it's a project I want to take on by myself. I want the group to do it. That is partly because, the group is a place these patients can go to when they get out of a hospital and they need support and assistance or to get involved with advocacy for people with mental illnesses.

I feel like what this organization lacks is an outreach effort to let more mental health consumers know that this group exists, and that it exists specifically for their benefit. What is the point, after all, of holding meetings, when only five people know about the meeting and only a few show up? I mean, I don't think this group is doing anything to let people know about our consumer council meetings, and I have always hated the pattern some organizations seem to go on where you have to just find out about the group because you know somebody who is in it.

It is a wonderful organization, but I have found that my ideas to reach out to the public and let other mental health consumers know we exist have all been shot down. I wanted to start a Facebook group, but the board of directors shot that idea down, and so did the group's president. Somehow, they think Facebook is not a safe place to diverge that people have a mental illness. Well, how do you end stigma against mental illnesses if you are afraid to even talk about it yourself?? I don't understand this logic, and I think it is simply the result of people who are older and out of touch with technology, so they don't have a clue what Facebook even is, but they are the ones who are making the decisions about it.

Working within groups is not always easy for me. I find difficulties and frustrations in most of them. I think that is the nature of the beast. Organizing is hard, and most people don't know how to do it very well. I mean, some groups actually spend time teaching how to have a group meeting with consensus process. I think that's amazing, but there are no groups that do that where I live. And the groups I am part of do not use consensus process. I feel consensus process is the most effective organizing method there is, as far as decisions go. Most of the world, however, doesn't seem to agree with that.

I also find some difficulties in groups like NOW because the other people in the group are usually more educated than I am, more gainfully employed as well, and married with children or in a serious relationship of some kind. I am none of those things, except for part time employment and some college in my background. The problem is, I do not always feel at ease telling people that the reason for that lack of progress in the socially accepted meaning of the term, "progress", is that I have a mental illness. I have, however, told the president and vice president of my NOW chapter, and neither of them was judgemental or rude in the least.

A while back, when I went to my first NOW meeting, someone there made a joke about something being crazy and "schizophrenic". I felt so irritated by that, I wrote an email to the president telling her I was offended because I have Schizophrenia. She was kind in response, but I felt a bit odd having written the letter, so I figured I'd never go to another NOW meeting. Eventually, I did go to another meeting, and now, oddly enough, I'm the secretary. I wanted to mention that to you here, because I feel that whatever each of us can do, in our own ways, small and large, to break the stigma that enshrouds mental illness, is something we can and must do. Ghandi said to be the change you want to see in the world. That involves taking action.

We can't sit silently by and not participate in the dialogue about mental illness. We must speak up. Perhaps we will tell someone about our illness and forever change that person's view of what a mentally ill person looks like or acts like. Stereotypes are so prevalent and so damaging, as most of the media portrayals of people with mental illnesses show the people as villains and psychopaths. We must stop this stigma. And telling that one person, and changing that person's world view in some, small way, is being the change we want to see. So each of us needs to tell, in my opinion, whenever we feel comfortable doing so.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    Well said...

    I think you should start a campaign for the distribution of books, games, and magazines for mental health centers. Write other mental health groups and ask for their participation, and set up drop boxes in key locations.

    This was a great reading, very inspirational; it makes me want to do more for mental illness awareness.



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