The Importance of Linking Up with our Sisters and Brothers in Mental Health

By Allison Weingarten, Director of Policy, FOR-NY

On Monday, July 9, 2018, I attended the New York State Office of Mental Health’s Regional Advisory Committee Meeting for Consumers and Families (RAC). According to the RAC website, “RAC was initiated in 1988. In response to a federal law mandating public advisory committees, the New York State Office of Mental Health (NYSOMH) formed the Mental Health Planning Advisory Committee (MHPAC), which included several consumer/survivor activists and advocates. This was the first time that OMH brought recipients into policy discussions in a formal way, and the involvement of consumer/survivors on the MHPAC was the impetus for the changes that were to follow.” The RAC includes Peer, Family and Youth Advocates as well as County Mental Health Directors (Directors of Community Services); Community Based Organizations; Managed Care Organizations; State Government Representatives; Hospitals and Health System Providers and other Key Partners.

Through the years, those in the Office of Consumer Affairs, working with the RAC and other consumer/survivor groups and individuals, have seen consumer/survivor participation become the rule rather than the exception at OMH. The importance of self-help and peer support to healing and recovery is understood and supported by OMH policy-makers. What started out as a single individual charged with bringing consumer/survivor perspectives into the policy-making process has grown into the Bureau of Recipient Affairs with 13 people in six locations around the state. The Office ensures meaningful consumer/survivor participation at all levels of the Mental Health System.

During the July 9 Regional Advisory Community Meeting, attendees brainstormed answers to questions posed by the Regional Planning Consortium including:
(1) Who are the people who best support our recovery and what do they do that helps you?
(2) What do you think is the best approach to address stigma and what is the most important aspect of stigma to address?
(3) What is your opinion of telehealth services?
(4) How does transportation impact your life?
(5) If there was one thing you could change about your “professional providers” work with you what would it be?

These are all questions that apply to the Addiction Recovery Community as well. In our discussion, I learned that many people in the room in recovery from Mental Illness are also in recovery from Addiction.

Attending this meeting, made it apparent that the Recovery Community must reach out to the Mental Hygiene community and invite them to our meetings and provide education about what is important to our community. At the same time, when invited, we need to show up in full force to meetings in the Mental Hygiene world. We need to share our resources, language and skills. We must break down the silos and realize we are more alike than we are different. Importantly, there are also lessons we can learn from our brothers and sisters in the mental health world. Mental Health advocates have been fighting for their rights for a long time and we have a lot we can learn from them!

I encourage everyone to sign up for the mailing list of the New York State Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors (CLMHD) Regional Planning Consortium and show up to meetings when they are scheduled. I also encourage you to contact your local Regional Advisory Specialist from the Office of Mental Health Office of Consumer Affairs to get information about upcoming Regional Advisory Committee Meeting information. I will also be sending along information as it comes in to me. We must be at the table. Thank you for all you do!