A Quick Recommendation

September 30, 2009 at 3:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Agitating for change is a deeply American -- and profoundly healthy -- action you can take.

Agitating for change is a deeply American -- and profoundly healthy -- action you can take.

I’d like to begin today with an insight that I had a couple of days ago: Lately I’ve been actively, publicly fighting stigma, and that’s one of the best wellness tools I’ve ever discovered.

Most importantly (and I think I’ve mentioned this), I give a presentation at work about communicating with people who have disabilities. The presentation itself is very commonsensical, including such advice as “Acknowledge people with disabilities,” “Communicate directly,” and “Respect requests for privacy.” The power lies in standing up in front of a large group of my coworkers and starting right off by saying that I’ve been diagnosed bipolar for 13 years (that leaves out the eight years I spent stumbling from doctor to doctor searching for an accurate diagnosis). As one audience member put it, it was surprising and delightful to see a normal-looking, perfectly competent person who has manic depression when, in his words, “When you hear bipolar you think of people going postal.” Oh, my. Such honesty. I also show slides of a woman who uses a wheelchair skiing, and a woman who suffered a stroke with her beloved custom recumbent bike. All of these images help to shake free people’s idea that having a disability means living a lonely life of misery.

I’ve done other things to fight stigma, ones that are somewhat easier for people who don’t work in a large organization that’s devoted to the ideals of diversity and inclusion. Perhaps the simplest is to sign up for legislative updates from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They track legislation that impacts the mentally ill and send out regular email updates that include simple steps you can take to agitate for change. On one occasion we had the opportunity to write letters about health care reform to the Obama transition team; I immensely enjoyed producing my three-page, single-spaced, obsessive screed. It may not have influenced policy much (I demanded single payer), but it was wonderful to think of Obama aides learning from and perhaps noting my perspective.

If you’re an Obama supporter, it’s probably worth going on the Organizing for America website and signing up for email updates. This led me to visit my Congressional Representative to argue for a public option in health care reform. That seems not to have worked, but it was still worth it to have 15 minutes of a staffer’s undivided attention to tell my story and let my views be known. In fact, I’ve decided to visit regularly, since the office is just a few blocks from my house.

Wherever you start, I think it’s an excellent idea to get active. Legislation like mental health parity gets passed precisely because humble folk like us press for it with letters, petitions, and other forms of public pressure. We shouldn’t let the pharmaceutical companies do all the talking, since they’re out to protect their own interests.

More later, I hope, including a book review.

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