Morning Zen

Remembering DJ Jaffe

August 28, 2020

A long-time advocate for those with serious mental illness, Don Lyle Jaffe, known as DJ, passed away last week after battling leukemia for more than 15 years.

DJ got involved in this work after he and his late wife became responsible for caring for her sister, who was mentally ill. From that point forward, his focus was razor-sharp on improving services for those with the most serious mental illnesses.

I first met DJ in the early days of the crafting of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. DJ, along with E. Fuller Torrey, were the driving forces behind then-Congressman Tim Murphy’s bill, which, after several years, was incorporated into the 21st Century Cures Act.

Now, here is the kicker for my testament and honoring the passing of this fierce advocate. He and I agreed on ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the language in Murphy’s mental health bill, which was the piece of legislation that interminably enter-twined our lives together.

But this is not the time or place to review how we disagreed with each other. This is the time and the place to honor someone, who, regardless of what I think of his views, was determined to find a way to make things better for the seriously mentally ill.

In Stephen Eide’s tribute to Jaffe, he described him as “a liberal Democrat to the left of Bernie,” and man, that was so true. One of my favorite memories of interacting with DJ was at one of Republican Congressman Tim Murphy’s hearings on his mental health bill. After the spectacle (cuz that’s what Murphy’s hearings were), DJ came up to me to say hello. I think he could tell that I was struggling with how the hearing went and likely could see my look of “What are you thinking about?’ on my face, and he said, “Ya know Scott, I am a Democrat.” We both laughed, I shook my head, and we agreed that we would disagree.

And that is what sticks with me as I honor his life in this post – his ability to stay focused on his truth, no matter if he was in a room full of Republicans or Democrats, a room full or those who agreed with him or disagreed – it didn’t matter. He was clear on who he was. 

Our conversations were always civil, sometimes cerebral, and sometimes emotional, but always civil. It is a beautiful world when those who don’t see eye to eye on an issue can find grace and compassion for each other.

Okay, my brother, I’ll see you on the other side. No doubt you are already busy advocating for better access to the most comfortable clouds.

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About the Author

Scott Bryant-Comstock

My passion is helping to shape policy and practice in children’s mental health. For the past 40 years, my journey as a mental health advocate has traveled from volunteering at a suicide and crisis center, professional roles as a therapist in an outpatient clinic, in-home family therapist, state mental health official, Board Chair for a county mental health program, and national reviewer of children’s mental health systems reform efforts. As the founder of the Children’s Mental Health Network (2009), I lead the Network’s efforts to grow a national online forum for the exchange of ideas on how to continually improve children’s mental health research, policy and practice.

In addition to my role with the CMHNetwork, I host The Optimistic Advocate Podcast, a weekly interview show where I explore how innovative people find ways to improve mental health for themselves, others, and the community at-large.

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