Consumer Activist Outlines “The Pathway to Dignity and True Mental Health System Reform”

(7-8-20) Discussions about how to shift responsibility for persons with serious mental illnesses away from the police and back on social services and the medical community continue to be debated. I’ve received emails from those who support my views and those who don’t. 

Long-time mental health advocate, Harvey Rosenthal, chief executive of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services – one of the most influential organizations that represents the rights of individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses – used the Fourth of July weekend to write about freedom for those with mental illnesses.

Promoting Liberty and Freedom: The Pathway to Dignity and True Mental Health System Reform

By Harvey Rosenthal, guest post from a different point of view.

I have always viewed the service and support that we offer to each other as ultimately about promoting and protecting freedom and liberty, or better yet liberation. Liberation from the restrictions and limitations that told and still tell us that recovery ‘happens’ for just some people instead of being expected for everyone and that have been imposed at times on us by our field, our academic institutions, our families, friends, neighbors….and ourselves.

There are a number of freedoms to aspire and commit to and, in some instances, to celebrate today.

Freedom from discrimination, devaluation and ridicule from others and from the fear, shame and self-condemnation we impose on ourselves.

Freedom from attacks by some on choice, rights and privacy protections, especially around the right to choose or refuse treatment and where it’s delivered…and the freedom to have access to meaningful legal assistance and psychiatric advance directives.

Freedom to accept or reject diagnoses, terms like recovery or treatments that might limit how we define ourselves and the course of our lives.

Personally, I have found my own diagnosis, medication and belief in my own recovery to be extremely helpful…but that is my choice and are not factors that define who I am and discount the array of other strategies that I get to choose to heal, grow and sometimes to succeed.

That freedom didn’t exist just a short time ago and still doesn’t for far far too many

Freedom from being viewed as ‘non-compliant’ rather than as someone who was/is failed by the wrong approach, relationship and service.

Freedom from being either needlessly hospitalized or from being pushed out of a hospitalization we are finding to be helpful.

Freedom from being afraid to talk about feelings of suicide or of hearing voices.

Freedom from treatments that mistake trauma from ‘illness’ and the fail to provide hope and the right kind of support.

Freedom to take on the dignity of risk and the responsibility that comes with it.

Freedom to choose where and with whom one lives and how to spend one’s day.

Freedom to define gender preferences and identities.

Freedom from wrongful connections with being the attacker….and especially from being attacked, since we are 11 times more likely to be the victims of violence (why hasn’t this received the attention and study it so urgently deserves?).

Freedom from criminalization, from needless escalations, abuse, arrests, incarcerations, from the torture of solitary confinement….or brutal death.

And freedom from pernicious racism that separates, demeans, distances and that is too often connected to support and/or treatment that is either unduly aggressive if not coercive….or isn’t there at all.

Our work, the work of those who identify as peer service providers and those who don’t, is truly sacred work and a choice that so many of us make every day despite shamefully inadequate regard and compensation.

Sometimes it’s helpful to remember that a good deal of our compensation comes from our commitment and choice to advance freedom, liberty and social justice every day.

Harvey Rosenthal

NYAPRS Chief Executive Officer

Office: 518-436-0008; C: 518-527-0564  


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.