Freedom Center Update April '05

Submitted by admin on Sat, 04/23/2005 - 23:56


Posted on Apr 24, 05

Freedom Center is growing by leaps and bounds, as abuse survivors are speaking up and reaching out and more and more people are questioning the pharmaceutical status quo and embracing the vision of alternative mental health care. It's sometimes difficult to stop and take a breath to keep everyone informed about all the activist projects, advocacy efforts, public education, and grasroots organizing we are involved in.

To the scores of people emailing and phoning us, we have to ask you to please forgive us, we're all-volunteer and haven't always got the resources to respond to everyone right away, but we do the best we can. If you don't hear back right away, email or phone us again, or catch us at one of the support group or yoga classes.

Here's a sample of what we've been up to:

We've had a steady stream of people needing advocacy support and info about alternatives, from across the US and even one person from India, and including people in locked psych wards and an urgent call from a Wisconsin jail. Our support group consistently gets 12-20 people on thursday nights, including survivors, mental health staff, allies, and family members and a mix of regulars, new people, and people who come and go. A vibrant network of friendships and mutual aid has emerged around the group, as people provide help and support to each other. Our email list has nearly 100 subscribers, and our website gets about 2,000 visitors a month.

Our yoga class is going strong with our great teacher Stacey, and is now the longest running and only free community yoga class in Hampshire county. Sadly for us Stacey is heading out to Colorado to study alternative counseling at the Naropa institute, so we'll be looking for a new teacher in June. Contact Freedom Center if you have any leads.

We've been collaborating with Icarus Project Bipolar community, with an event at Hampshire College and contributions to their support group manual. Arise for Social Justice has been a reliable supporter in our fundraising efforts, and we're doing what we can to contribute to the valuable campaigns Arise and SHaRC are leading, such as the campaign against the Chicopee jail and spreading the harm reduction philosophy. Social worker and Freedom Center organizer Cheryl Alexander, who wrote a powerful thesis on the traumatic effects of restraints on adolescents, presented at our disability and domestic violence training. She also joined Will Hall and Caty Simon at a talk to 60 undergraduate nursing students at UMASS, and a talk at Springfield College School of Social Work. Students at Springfield College were so affected that they are now organizing to change the curriculum of the school to include survivor perspectives and critical views of mental health care.

Caty was featured in the “Top 10 Activists Under 25” feature in lesbian magazine Curve, and Will was nominated for a Heart To Heart award from the Consortium (he's sorry he was sick and couldn't make the presentation ceremony!). Oryx Cohen has been working as a board member of Windhorse Associates to strengthen their commitment to peer led recovery and alternatives to medication. Another edition of the Forbes magazine “Prozac Nation: The Party's Over” story that interviewed Will was published – in Japanese!

Our December Dante's Cure event was a smash success, with more than 150 people packing into a room at Mt. Holyoke college and 50+ turned away. A dvd of the event is now available for our cost of $5. Dr. Dorman and Catherine Penney also gave presentations to ServiceNet and Windhorse as part of their visit, and everyone was deeply moved by the humanity and depth of compassion of these two courageous individuals. April 22nd's Coercive Psychiatry event was also a success at Hampshire College. Mollie Hurter and Aby Adams brought author Lenny Lapon, researcher on psychiatric prisoner executions during the Holocaust, to discuss the legacy of psychiatric violence, Bush's New Freedom Commission mental health screening, the Texas Medication Algorithm Project, and modern eugenics.

The Experiencing Madness film series is underway for its third year! Freedom Center activist and Mt. Holyoke professor Gail Hornstein has done a great job gathering powerful films hard to find in the US and facillitating open dialog with the community. We've had a diverse mix of people at these tuesday night screenings, including teachers and parents talking about ADHD and stimulant drugs, survivors of forced drugging and restraints, therapists talking about the role of insurance/HMOs and pharmaceutical companies, psychology professors discussing psychosis and psychotherapy, mystics talking about psychedelic drugs, and teenagers sharing experiences with eating disorders. Gail also recently returned from another research trip to the UK, and we're planning a summer event with her to celebrate the paperback edition of her book.

Oryx, Gail, and Will spent a weekend in November with an international gathering of therapists, advocates, and survivors working on Soteria-style medication alternative safe houses. People from as far away as Ireland, England, and Germany met to provide mutual support and network to make alternatives a reality and bring greater awareness to the alternatives that already exist, such as the Runaway House in Berlin and Windhorse. Networking is continuing so stay tuned as this collaboration unfolds.

In April the Department of Mental Health held a public hearing at Worcester State Hospital to receive written and oral testimonies regarding restraint and seclusion. Cheryl Alexander joined Disability Law Center Attorney Susan Stefan at the event, and among the other attendees were M-POWER, legal advocates, nurses, psychiatrists and social workers. The event was encouraging, as speakers recognized the traumatic effects of seclusion and restraint, and learned the details of Pennsylvania’s inspiring plans to END ALL seclusion and restraint in the state by January 1, 2006 - move along Massachusetts!

Freedom Center organizer Sarah Edwards continues to work with the Safe Passage domestic violence agency, providing powerful presentations about her experiences as a psych survivor and domestic violence survivor. Sarah has done a huge number of trainings in the past several months, including Stavros, Everywoman's Center, Hampshire-Franklin County and State Police Officers and dispatchers and Court Personnel, the Disabled Person's Protective Commission Mass. Rehab Commission, Department of Mental Retardation. Department of Mental Health, Ware Police Department, Elder Protective Services, and for Safe Passage volunteers. She also joined Cindy Green, Ewa Maria Brancewicz, and LaWanza Lett-Brewington to present at the Can-Do Conference On Domestic Violence and Disability (Tenth Annual National and First Annual International Conference for more info). Go Sarah!

Susan Stefan collaborated with Freedom Center presenters at a half-day training on disability and violent crime, alerting us to new research about the extremely high rates of crime commited against people with disabilities. Susan has continued to offer valuable legal advice on Freedom Center advocacy issues, and we hope a future grant will help pay the costs of this collaboration.

We also had front-page press coverage in the Springfield Republican on the controversy surrounding the local NAMI chapter's firing of its executive director, and setting off a much needed community discussion about the importance of people labeled with mental illness having our own voice in policy discussions. Janet Shaw, Director of Independent Living Services for Stavros Center for Independent Living, wrote in a great Letter to the Editor

It's time for the Alliance for the Mentally Ill to consider alternatives to the medical model. The Freedom Center is basically the independent living center for people with mental health labels, with each member taking responsibility for his or her own well-being, as well as the responsibility for educating and assisting peers. The Freedom Center is not the bad guy. It's a voice that merely wants to be heard the same as the rest of us. To the "alliance" I say, you need to get with the program.

A February roadtrip brought us to a workshop in Washington DC with Leah Harris and Ketchup of the Teenage Lobotomy 'zine at the National Conference on Organized Resistance. 200 young political activists eager for information about alternative mental health and critical perspectives on the mental health industry heard the presentation. Congrats to Aby for her great success at her first public presentation! March saw Freedom Center organizers at an event in Philadephia that helped get a local do-it-yourself mental health support and advocacy group off the ground. It was inspiring to see other cities take on the issue to address the need for alternatives.

Oryx led the way in a series of grant proposal submissions sent out in February. So far we have positive responses from two foundations, and just heard the Resist foundation is awarding us $1,000! Thanks to the individual donor who stepped in to cover costs while we are looking for more stable funding, and everyone cross your fingers on the grants, working on a shoestring is very challenging and we could really use some money! (And please contact us if you want to make a donation.)

There's more, so check out our email list archives and website to keep informed about what's going on.

-- Will Hall


( categories: )