why i speak about, consult about, and advocate for
what I speak about, consult about, and advocate for
I speak about hope and I advocate for change — and I consult with organizations about how to do it. As for hope, I start with where we are: Mental health issues are not just taking an enormous toll on individuals; they’re also taking an enormous toll on our society, including our organizations — which includes our businesses. So I start, initially, with my story, and what I’ve learned, in terms of tools — to show that things really can change for the better, if people and organizations take action. Ultimately, hope and change are interrelated; I show how action can turn things around. I want to help by change how things currently are, for the better.
Part of this is creating environments where people —- including people in organizations — including employees — are safe, and feel safe, to get help and support when facing mental health issues. This is not just humane; it’s also good sense. I want to end the irrational prejudices and stigma that prevent people, especially people in workplaces, from seeking the full help they need with mental health issues. And, particularly in the advocacy area, I want to focus attention on the problem of anosognosia — the fact that many people with mental illness often can’t perceive or see that they have an illness that needs treatment. Societal stigma and the complication of anosognosia are two different things, but they’re related: I talk about both because I want people with mental illness to be able to access doctors, and medicine, and therapy — and to have this access be considered as important as any other fundamental human right. Why? As I mentioned above, it’s not just a question of being humane; it’s also good business sense for organizations and companies.
Depending on the occasion, audience, and purpose of a given talk or consultation, I also speak and advocate about other systemic problems with our society’s handling of mental illness: In many cases, you can’t get treatment until you find yourself in jail — incarcerated in our criminal justice system — even though there may be no legally valid reason for you to be imprisoned in the first place. It’s inhumane for us to use prisons instead of medical institutions to deal with our citizens who have the medical disability of a mental illness. In advocating for this, I bring it back to — and weave in — my own story and how it relates to taking action, and building hope.
I advocate in part by telling my own story of rock bottom and recovery, but my story isn’t that different than the story of anyone else. We can all relate to each other, if we are willing to get past irrational fears and myths about what mental illness is — and is not. My story, like so many others, is just a launching point to be honest about we are, and where we need to go, if we're going to take mental illness and substance abuse seriously in this society. Not just as a health crisis that needs attention, but as the idea that people with mental illness, because we think and feel and perceive and connect differently, inherently add diversity, and value, to the mix of human development. I’ll touch on this later. We bring value by the way we think and feel and connect. We come up with some uncommonly great ideas that are outside the box.
Part of my talk is a brief sketch of where we are as a society regarding dual diagnoses, or co-occurring disorders. There's new information. New research. And it's relevant: Between mental illness and substance abuse, more humans are impacted in this society than this society currently admits.
I use my story to weave in the bigger picture. Where we are in understanding co-occurring disorders, and recovery, as a function of science. Where we are, as a society, in treating mental illness — because, primarily, we treat it through our criminal justice system right now, which is not only cruel, but makes no sense. As you may expect, I also address stigma, anosognosia, and inclusion — the mosaic of inclusion and access that I mentioned before —- and policies that could address and improve both. And I attempt to persuade the audience about the absolute benefits of access to a psychiatrist. And there are other good ideas out there, which I suggest. Along the way, I point out the obvious: Imagine the repercussions of stigma if you’re not a criminal, but are being warehoused in jail. You’re all but presumed to be bad — there you are, being housed with convicted criminals — when really your only “crime” is that you have a disability in your brain.
Depending on the audience, its age, and its needs, I speak greater or less detail about some of these ideas, to keep them interesting and accessible, which I hope give people new thoughts about mental illness to think about, talk about, and spread. Some of these ideas are based in innovation and business; some in law; some in public policy. Others are about changing society's norms, some in the notion that any person, with any mind, has something of value to contribute to society. All of these ideas are simple, clear, practical ideas to change and improve the status quo as to stigma, our misuse of the criminal justice system, concepts such as competency and intent, the warehousing of people with mental illness disabilities, and other related issues. I don't claim to have all the answers. But I love building on new research and new ideas. With my bipolar brain, along with my careers as both a lawyer and an artist, I do have a useful, unique, and valuable view. So do you.
Along the way, I tell key parts of my story again, because, when we step back from all of the society-level ideas, when we get past all of the medicine and data and science, I want to give real hope to anyone listening who might be suffering, secretly and scared, like I was, all those long 13 years. All humans dealing with mental illness or substance abuse deserve hope, in the form of access to doctors and treatment. In the long run, it will be considered, by enlightened societies and cultures, to be a basic human right.