We came, we spoke, what now?

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I live in what is sometimes called the "bluest state." Advocacy for all rights -- educational rights, human rights, legal rights-- is strong here. When the arguments about Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) began, it seemed so obvious that no one's rights should be limited or reduced. Who would think that was a good idea? I wasn't sure that AOT had much to do with me or the families I know. And yet....

I started to listen to the stories of broken systems, of desperate measures in a different way. I was personally lucky that when my son became an adult that our life didn't feel that desperate. It could have. But other parents tell stories of their young adult son or daughter, living still at home as so many of their peers still do, rejecting treatment and turning away from services. There are often younger brothers and sisters there too, watching as a terrible crisis happens, or the police are called. Parents say, If they were younger I could insist on treatment or even go to court. It's still my job to make things better, they say, and make things better for all of us in this family. But I feel helpless and sometimes out of options, they tell me.

Those voices and stories were in my mind and heart when the Children's Mental Health Network created a meeting, and space for all of us to talk and to listen. We talked about our experiences and our passion. We talked about our hopes --- that a mental health bill can create change that is thoughtful and needed and meaningful. We talked about our fears -- that when you give someone a legal hammer that everything might look like a nail. And I thought about all the stories that I carry in my own heart, my own and many others.

Opportunities like this one rarely come along. The Defiant 8 had a difficult conversation, not because it was contentious but because we brought our hopes and fears with us. But they sat in our back pockets while we listened to each other with respect and caring. I believe that will create a way forward.

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lisaLisa Lambert is the executive director of Parent/Professional Advocacy League (PPAL) and a Children's Mental Health Network Advisory Council member. Lisa Lambert became involved in children’s mental health as an advocate for her young son in 1989 through the CASSP family network in California. After moving back to Massachusetts, she began supporting families whose children and youth had behavioral health needs. Her areas of expertise include mental health policy, systems advocacy and family-driven research.


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