[Hpn] Self-determination & independence versus force & dependency
Morgan W. Brown
Wed, 21 Feb 2001 23:27:36 -0500
Am sending the below forwarded previously published article out for those
who may not have read it either before or recently. My apologies to those
who have come across it before again and again.
Morgan W. Brown
Still Homeless in Montpelier Vermont USA
Self-determination and independence versus force and dependency
By Morgan Brown
For some time now, there has been much written about and even more talk
concerning the "restructuring" supposedly happening in various mental health
systems. So far, everything I have read or heard of, indicates to me that
all this "restructuring" is nothing more than an attempt to find new ways to
do much of the same old thing within these systems and within the societies
which foster and embrace them.
The use of force within these mental health systems needs to be completely
done away with before these systems can truly become ones of "empowerment"
for everyone involved. This would be real change, because it is what is
needed and because it is also very long overdue.
Whether on an inpatient, outpatient, or "community" basis, the use of force
or coercion in mental health treatment is clearly wrong. Force and treatment
do not go or work together. In fact, each works in opposition to the other.
Force fosters dependency, victimization, anger, violence, helplessness, and
irresponsibility. However, treatment which is free from the use of force or
coercion embodies what is essential to what often becomes termed as
"recovery": personhood, self-determination, hope, faith, responsibility, and
independence, as well as interdependence. Force does not ensure safety or
security; rather, it is the use of force that destroys them.
Using force is easy. Choosing alternatives to force may be difficult, or
seem so, but it need not be impossible. Many options are available which are
not possible when force is the governing paradigm.
If the force/coercion paradigm were no longer in place, the power imbalance
that currently exists would cease, or at least its base would lose its
authority. Resources which are currently being employed to bolster the force
paradigm could be used instead, to meet the basic needs of individuals-needs
now not met in a way of their choosing, or not met at all. These needs
include: non-segregated, non-congregate housing, home ownership programs
(designed by persons they are meant to assist and packaged to assist persons
living on very low incomes), tenant-based rental assistance programs,
income, food, support, training, employment, healthcare and transportation.
Meals on Wheels, personal assistance services, and Part B-Independent Living
Services can play meaningful and vital roles in supporting individuals
labeled with psychiatric disabilities to live independently. However, it
would take a major shift in resources to fund these much- needed programs.
In Vermont, information regarding these programs and access to them, can be
gained through the Vermont Center for Independent Living (V.C.I.L.).
We must do several things, including these:
* End civil commitment and abolish the insanity defense for persons labeled
with psychiatric (or emotional) disabilities.
* Hold people fully accountable for their actions if a crime is committed
and then proven within the criminal justice and correctional systems,
regardless of whether or not an individual is labeled with a psychiatric
* Shift resources to fund a system that helps to meet the needs of
individuals labeled with psychiatric disabilities in a way of their choosing
and make mental health systems completely voluntary.
* Use vouchers to allow people real choices both in selecting care and/or
service providers and the actual care and/or service that they may choose to
* End the preferred-provider status, sponsored by state statutes, currently
in place within community mental health systems across the United States.
Often, there are concerns raised about what should be done if someone is
"out of control" or "troubled" or "in need of treatment" when their state of
mind and/or behavior is being questioned. While the issue appears to be
complicated by several factors, including current constitutional law
regarding an individual's rights in criminal proceedings, it is my belief
that people can be held more accountable by changing how they are treated,
by abolishing the insanity defense, and by ending civil commitment of
individuals labeled with psychiatric disabilities.
Being "out of control" or labeled with a psychiatric disability should not
be an excuse and should not be tolerated if a person is proven to have
committed a crime.
If no crime is committed, but the person appears to be "out of control" or
"troubled," they should be offered voluntary assistance only or otherwise be
left alone. More tolerance in this manner is actually needed, not less of
it. If an individual is not committing a crime, but her or his actions are
annoying others, then they should not be detained or interfered with-just
like anyone else. Being annoying, a jerk, or "out of control," or being
labeled with a psychiatric disability in itself should not be grounds for
imposing society's will.
We shouldn't be able to hold people accountable for actions that we think
that they might do. People should, however, be fully accountable for proven
criminal violations of the law.
I do believe that it is possible for us to finally rid ourselves of the
terrible burden of force and coercion within mental health systems.
One of my favorite quotes which I need to constantly remind myself of and
which I use often in this charge of work is this one: "Some men see things
as they are, and ask, Why? I dream of things that never were and ask, Why
not?"-Robert F. Kennedy. These words help carry me through many tough
times-both personal and political. I encourage everyone to dream and then to
ask, "Why not?" This can be very liberating to one's mind, body and soul,
especially when sharing with and supporting each other-as we journey into
the unknown together.
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**
-------End of forward-------
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
PS If you have not been there either before or recently,
make sure to visit Sundog Stories: http://www.sundogstories.net
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