Stakeholders Meet in East Texas for Hogg Foundation Conference on Mental Health, Recovery and Wellness
December 16, 2010
A crowd of 200 gathered at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches on Oct. 7 to attend A Call to Action: Achieving Mental Health, Recovery and Wellness Together.
The conference was 16th in a series of biennial meetings hosted by the Hogg Foundation in honor of its first executive director, Robert Lee Sutherland. The event drew consumers, family members, mental health professionals, policy makers, advocates, community leaders, educators and students.
A seismic shift in understanding the causes of mental illness has occurred in recent years. Depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety and similar illnesses are now recognized as health conditions that can be successfully managed with proper care and support, like diabetes or heart disease.
“The time has come for us to break through the stigma of mental illness and recognize that it is treatable, just like many physical illnesses,” said Dr. Octavio N. Martinez, Jr., executive director of the foundation. “People with mental illness can and do recover, achieve wellness, and lead meaningful, active lives in their communities. And they can help others on the journey to recovery and wellness.”
This view is changing the way that mental health services are offered, for the better. Consumers and their families now have greater influence in the public mental health system. They help shape policies and serve on agency boards and committees at the federal, state and local levels. They also have a voice in designing treatment plans and can choose services and supports to best meet their needs.
“This is such a life-changing concept for consumers, youth and their families. It is so important that the Hogg Foundation decided to focus this year’s Robert Lee Sutherland Seminar on mental health, recovery and wellness,” said Stephany Bryan, the conference organizer and a program officer and consumer and family liaison at the foundation.
The conference featured a session on peer-to-peer services. Peer specialists are consumers who have recovered and are trained to assist others on their personal journey of recovery. This model is gaining recognition as a successful approach to achieving recovery.
Peer-to-peer services can be a powerful, highly effective aid in recovery because peer specialists have lived through experiences similar to those of the consumers they are working with. Peer specialists provide services that also help relieve shortages in the state’s mental health workforce, and community mental health centers can bill Medicaid for their services.
A new five-day, 40-hour peer specialist training and certification program is recognized by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The program is operated by Via Hope Texas Mental Health Resource, a training and technical assistance resource for mental health consumers. Via Hope is a collaborative of Mental Health America of Texas and NAMI Texas and is funded by the state.
“Hiring people who are in recovery from mental illness to help others with their recovery is a smart, cost-effective way to expand the mental health workforce and provide employment opportunities for consumers,” said Dennis Bach, director of Via Hope.
Joe Powell, executive director of the Association of Persons Affected by Addiction, talked to the audience about his professional and personal experience with substance use, mental illness and recovery and wellness. Powell has been in recovery from addiction and alcoholism for 20 years.
“The recovery movement is a paradigm shift from the traditional treatment model. We now know risk factors aren’t predictive factors when protective factors are in place,” he said.
Luanne Southern, deputy commissioner of DSHS, closed the conference with a message of collaboration and vision to expand awareness of mental health, recovery and wellness in Texas. Creating a recovery-focused system requires change, she said. Innovation must occur at the community level.
“What would success look like with recovery and wellness? We can define a new vision together, instead of independent ones,” she said. “Believing that recovery is possible is awesome. I have seen people recover.”
Conference Features Consumer and Family Member Panel Discussion
A panel of consumers and family members shared their personal experiences with recovery and wellness at the conference.
Sarah Martinez is a certified peer specialist at Austin State Hospital, where she developed an adolescent peer support program and leads a group of peer specialists. She spoke about her experience with mental illness in high school and her path to recovery.
“I had a doctor who was respectful enough to talk with me and inform me about my diagnosis and medication. He helped to ground me and gave me suggestions and things to watch for, like sleep patterns,” she said. “I also had a strong sense of self. I didn’t accept my diagnosis as a label, but recognized it as a way to describe my experience.”
Martinez said she has achieved real wellness and recovery through service to others, spirituality, exercise, and honoring her experience and the experience of others. “This has been a profound experience. I’m still baffled by it, but I don’t manage it. I honor it and wouldn’t change it,” she said.
Mike Halligan, a licensed professional counselor and mental health consumer, talked about trauma as an underlying cause of mental illness. He said nearly 70 percent of people in the public mental health system have been traumatized, almost half to the extent that they have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“We don’t realize how much trauma affects us,” he said. “If left untreated, trauma leads to treatment failure for mental illness.”
Halligan said he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and hospitalized in the 1970s. Doctors recommended that he not go to college, work, marry or have children because of his diagnosis.
He later realized he had PTSD and successfully sought treatment. He went on to earn a master’s degree in counseling psychology and now works with federal, state and local agencies and advocacy groups on behalf of consumers and families. “A large part of recovery is taking control of your life,” Halligan said.
Dr. Maurice Dutton, a retired educator and mental health advocate, had a son who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 14 in 1974. His son later served in the U.S. Army and died in 2005.
Dutton offered advice to medical professionals on how to help family members. He also advised consumers and family members to ask questions of professionals, research the diagnosis and learn about recovery.
“My wife and I experienced loneliness, shame and ignorance. Professionals need to do more for parents and families by sharing information about the illness, treatment, recovery and wellness,” Dutton said.
Dutton said peer specialists are an important part of the recovery process. He also said families can help loved ones in recovery by providing an environment in which they feel safe, loved and cared for.
“Listen to what they feel and what they want and be sensitive to where they are. Don’t argue. Become a resource of information,” he said. “They have to have responsibility for their life and hope. It’s their recovery, you can’t do it for them.”