Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A safety pin story and plea for Mental Health Reform

This originally appeared in my other blog The Silver Ribbon Campaign and Briefly here on Myalgia Mommies. The bill passed through the house and will be considered by the Senate after Thanksgiving. I urge you to call your Senator, we can still get a positive change in 2016. 

I am wearing a safety pin as a sign that I will stand for tolerance and all safe spaces. That includes brain science....

It's funny how timing happens. Today H.B. 2646 The Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act is being marked up in the House of Representative Energy and Commerce Committee. It has been over a year since this bill was introduced. It will address many of the holes in the current mental health system. It comes at a time when many are going on record as demanding better access to mental health treatment. I hope the bill is passed as quickly as possible.

Over the years I have called and emailed the congressional offices many times. Below is the message I sent today. I am not passing out Silver Ribbons at the rally. I am asking that everyone please put a safety pin in their lapel instead. This is a symbol that we believe in brain science and are making sure it is funded. Thank you.

Thank you for taking the time for fully considering the substance of H.B. 2646 today. This fall it will be eighteen years since I lost my mother, Margaret Ray, to suicide. I have tried to make things better. Recent statistics would indicate that my efforts have not been successful. All I did was pass out Silver Ribbons. I think I already gave you one. If you don’t have one and want to show support for Mental Health reform please just put a silver safety pin in your lapel as a sign that you believe we can cure brain diseases.  It is an excellent bill.

When I was in school the Surgeon General released a report on Mental Illness and stated that it was the greatest Public Health threat facing the country. I had the opportunity to see the science of brain imagery and the cutting edge of research first hand when I went on a book promotion tour in 2000. Over the past sixteen years I have endeavored to keep up with the reading and have changed and evolved some of my understanding of what a brain disease looks like. We've come to understand profound things about ourselves and our brains. We have tried some programs that worked and sadly are seeing the glaring mistakes that were made. We need more beds and a general increase in funding. H.B. 2646 addresses many of these issues and takes steps to move forward with best practices.

During that long ago tour, I passed out silver ribbons as part of a larger national effort. (I also inherited the foundation for my poor mother who took her life when I was a law student. When she took her life she left a hole in mine and because she involved the media, she put a huge red flag on my internet background check. Whether or not you believe in stigma against the mentally ill, I believe that it has had a strong impact on my career options.) At the time several of the national mental health advocacy organizations were supporting the silver ribbon for the brain campaign. Mental health is just not something people want to talk about. I don't think anyone wants to wear a silver ribbon.

Almost everyone is touched by a story of mental illness. If they haven't experienced it yet, they are either very young or incredibly self absorbed. Helping someone with any kind of bought of illness can be exhausting, it is harder when the illness must remain a secret. Over the past few decades, getting mental health treatment in the US has been a struggle for many resulting in long sad stories. I have found that if you wear a silver ribbon and put yourself out there as a mental health advocate, people are going to tell you horribly sad stories that you can't do anything to help.

So, thank you for doing the hard work of listening to all the families who have called in and told their stories to you during this lobbying effort. I wish I was there with a basket of silver ribbons. If you wish to show your support, please put a silver safety pin on your lapel to show that we take care of invisible diseases too and everyone will try to be grateful.


Anna-Lisa Johanson, JD-MPH
Please join me in wearing a safety pin as a sign that you believe that science will overcome mental illness. In these sad days, it's a way of saying that we are doing the best we can. 

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