August 23rd, 3:30am, Eugene, Oregon. As our rickety cab pulled away from my home, I was contemplating what this opportunity was going to look like. What was it going to feel like? Were we really going be able to change anything? Sometimes our thoughts are so loud that they slice into reality like a nail into a badly worn tire. BAM! Just then, my racing thoughts were interrupted by a flat tire. Did I displease the gods of advocacy? Or was this a foreshadowing of the very nature that this trip would take? Moments after, our cabby notified a tired staticky sounding dispatcher of our self-identified crisis. In the world of cab driving, flat tires on the way to airports should rank amongst the most serious of situations. But as that staticky voice came back with a six-word response of “We will try to send someone,” I thought to myself, “Try?” It was very clear that this was truly a crisis only I could fully appreciate.
“Assisted outpatient treatment.” The bureaucratic term which would remove some decision-making abilities from patients deemed “unfit” to have a voice of choice was the primary subject matter that would bring me 2,038 miles away from my custom made Google Glass charger. The conversation itself invokes more debate than any sensible mental health subject I’ve ever come across. As a former employee of Mind, Freedom, International, an organization known for it’s extreme views, that’s no small feat.
“So, what’s your opinion?” residential juggernaut Bob Lieberman, asked just a few days before the flat tire and subsequent trip. The truth is, my limited brain won’t even allow me to see past some of the foundational flaws in the system. I couldn’t give him a clear answer. One of the implications with assisted outpatient treatment for young adults in transition would be taking away the newly awarded power of choice. According to a data point released in 2006, it was clear that young adults flee the mental health system as soon as legally possible (2006 Data Point - ask Damien). The same study demonstrated these very young adults come back into the system at the age of 25-28 in the form of life-long health issues, long-term psychiatric hospitalization and in some cases, the morgue. If these new powers were granted to judges, it is certain that these young people will be ordered back to the traditional mental health system that doesn’t understand how to serve the cultural needs of young adults.
For young people who have become “system-weary” by means of overmedication, lack of appropriate therapies, or any of the other countless culturally unaware violations made by the common back of the phonebook therapist or psychiatrist, there is a reason that they are so far away from the help they so desperately need. If you think I’m painting an unfair picture, seek your local Youth M.O.V.E., Active Minds, or NAMI youth groups for the unabridged version. I assure you that these thoughts are scaled to size.
August 24th, 6:30pm, Washington D.C. As I walked into one of the big name hotel lobbies, I noticed a message (or maybe a warning) appear on my Google Glass display from Scott Bryan-Comstock that read “Be there in a few minutes. No talking about outpatient treatment tonight.” It wasn’t a warning; just a reminder that the eight advocates were coming together tonight because of the heart, not because of the politics. That was a reality that quickly became apparent.
The next morning, each of the advocates had the opportunity to give their perspective on assisted outpatient treatment through the lens of their personal experiences. Anecdotal story telling has recently been frowned upon as a method of educating stakeholders. In the advocacy world of 2014, data and best practices take center stage. This wasn’t center stage. It wasn’t stage left with Representative Murphy (PA) or stage right with Representative Barber (AZ). It was rehearsal. I had my chance to talk about the need for academic reform for mental health professionals. Family members had a chance to talk about their lived experience. Science and data advocates gave the framework of why they studied and not what they studied. This was a powerful first step, in a journey to better outcomes.
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Martin Rafferty is the founder and executive director for a state-wide chapter ofYouth M.O.V.E. National called Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon. Martin was diagnosed with bipolar II at 23 and later with PTSD but does not let diagnosis define who he is. Martin is the winner of multiple advocacy awards in the field of mental health and the author of curricula used by state leaders in Oregon to train peer support specialists. As an experienced public speaker, Martin has trained nationally since 2009. He is the primary author of the Youth Mental Health Bill of Rights and the director of an award winning documentary video called Project Invoke.
Martin is currently the co-chair of the Oregon’s Children’s Mental Health Advisory Committee. He has been on the Youth Advisory Board of the website reachout since 2008 and also served for 3 years on the board for CAFETY. He is the winner of the Oregon 2010 Mental Health Award of Excellence, the 2010 “Ma” Curtis Award from the Oregon Coalition on Housing and Homelessness for his advocacy for homeless and runaway youth, and the 2013 Advocate of the Year award presented by the Oregon Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. During the 2013 FFCMH conference in Washington D.C. Martin also accepted on behalf of his organization the 2013 Rock Star award for Chapter of the Year.