Thursday, December 8, 2011

Agent of Change

How's my mental health today?

Ok - but I'm more focused on the value of story this morning.

A week ago Heidi and I went to see the movie Help. I won't retell the story here but the film reminded me of the potential for story to be a catalyst for change - sometimes profound change.

Much of my work in the mental health field was connected to stories. The purpose of my job was to provide a new vision of the potential of people with mental illness to rebuild their lives and participate fully and equitably in community. This new vision was grounded in the stories of people who recovered; stories of what helped and what hindered, what healed and what harmed.

First person accounts of psychiatric abuse challenged the entrenched treatment paradigm. These stories sparked a very vocal anti-psychiatry movement. The leaders of this movement called themselves psychiatric survivors. All of a sudden people with psychiatric issues declared they would no longer accept treatment and services that robbed them of their dignity, their voice, their physical health, and their freedom for self-determination. The storytellers demonstrated the ability of psych patients to determine their own future, to define the potential and limits of their own lives.

 "Storytelling can change a room.
It can change lives. It can change the world."
Gwenda LedBetter

The anti-psychiatry movement preached the potential of people to help themselves and others. Peer support, peer counseling, and the mental health support system became a by-product of this movement. Recovery and empowerment became the buzzwords of the mental health industry. Persons living with a mental disorder heard these stories of recovery,and they began to see hope for themselves. With the renewal of hope came the realization that each individual needed to become active in their own healing. As mental health professionals heard about people recovering from serious mental illness, and saw examples of this reality in the people they were working with, they too experienced a renewed hope of positive outcomes.

Stories lived and observed initiated a desire among many mental health professionals to learn how to become facilitators of recovery. They provided hope to families and patients; they sparked new services and  treatment strategies. The new approach to service delivery, although it still faces substantial resistance, has produced more stories of recovery. The result - a cycle of hope and potential.

Stories continue to abound.

The Canadian Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology published the report, Out of the Shadows at Last in May 2006, which contains many stories of people's experiences of mental health illness and services. It became the foundation stone of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, a federal body charged with developing a national mental health plan. A major goal of the Commission is to eliminate the stigma of mental illness in our country and promote greater knowledge and understanding of these issues.

Will permanent positive change happen?

That's another story.

"Storytelling is the thread which is woven deep
in our lives, our conscious, our humanity. 

It has the power to bring understanding
amongst the peoples of the world. 
Tell and listen." - Antonio Rocha

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