David Covington Announced as the President-Elect for AAS Board

AAS Header

The results are in! We are pleased to announce the newly elected AAS Board Members as follows:

  • President-Elect: David Covington, MBA, LPC
  • Secretary: Jonathan Singer, PhD
  • Clinical Division Chair: Melinda Moore, PhD
  • Research Division Chair: Jie Zhang, PhD

Other recent members appointed to the AAS Executive Committee include Bart Andrews, PhD and April Foreman, PhD.

We extend our congratulations to the winners, and our appreciation to all candidates for their willingness to serve.

A special thanks to Past-President Bill Schmitz, PsyD and his committee for their time and effort.

Suicidology at 50

Elected Board Members will begin their duties at the 50th annual Conference in Phoenix, AZ. For more information, please click on the banner above.

#RecoveryNow Annual Leadership Retreat 2016

RI International’s Board, Executive Team and RSAs from across the US met for RI’s Annual Leadership Retreat #RecoveryNow

New 24/7 Mental Health Urgent Care Funded by Riverside University Health Services Opening in Palm Springs Announced November 23rd

“Huge Opportunity to meet Community’s Overall Behavioral Healthcare Needs,” According to Riverside County Chief of Staff Michelle DeArmond

Left to right, RI International CEO, David Covington, Palm Springs Mayor, Robert Moon, Michelle DeArmond, Chief of Staff for Riverside Co. Board Supervisor John J. Benoit, Steve Steinberg, director of RUHS Behavioral Health.

Left to right, RI International CEO, David Covington, Palm Springs Mayor, Robert Moon, Michelle DeArmond, Chief of Staff for Riverside Co. Board Supervisor John J. Benoit, Steve Steinberg, director of RUHS Behavioral Health.

Palm Springs, CA, November 23, 2016 — County officials and Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon today announced the grand opening of RI’s 24-hour mental health urgent care facility, in Palm Springs, California, located at 2500 N. Palm Canyon Dr.

“This is a huge opportunity for us to take one more piece of the overall behavioral health need, and give people access to these services for our community as a whole,” said Michelle DeArmond, Chief of Staff for Riverside Co. Board Supervisor John J. Benoit. DeArmond added that the facility provides more community services, in a more targeted and cost-effective way. “This is one opportunity where people who are in crisis, but don’t necessarily need to take up law enforcement time or use a hospital bed, can go in and receive support from people who are specialized in dealing specifically with mental health crisis.”

24-7 Mental Health Urgent Care Facility, located at 2500 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite A-4, Palm Springs, CA.

24-7 Mental Health Urgent Care Facility, located at 2500 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite A-4, Palm Springs, CA.

“Our goal is to provide timely support before a situation becomes so volatile that people are involuntarily held in hospital emergency rooms,” said Steve Steinberg, director of Riverside University Health System (RUHS) Behavioral Health. “We are providing an environment and a level of services that engage people in their recovery.”

“One of the reasons our crisis services are rapidly expanding is because we’ve developed what we call the living room approach,” said RI International CEO and President David Covington. “The Palm Springs facility is our fourth added this year, bringing our total to 14 crisis facilities in five states across the U.S.,” said Covington.  “We marry clinical excellence with peer support, and work to make our facilities feel more like a comfortable living room or resort, rather than an institution. Our staff is not separated from guests by Plexiglas. We do this to help lessen stigma and provide healing spaces, welcoming environments conducive to de-escalation and recovery,” added Covington.

The 24/7 Mental Health Urgent Care is for adults voluntarily seeking assistance.  Services include assessments, medication management and psychiatric support. During their stay, guests will participate in the development of individualized care plans that include recovery education, peer-to-peer support, mental health services, nutritional counseling and coordination and referral to community-based services.

The facility is funded by Riverside County through RUHS and operated by RI International.

ABOUT RI INTERNATIONAL: Headquartered in Phoenix, RI International is one of the nation’s leading crisis services mental health providers. Founded as a non-profit in 1990, the Company is in Delaware, Arizona, California, North Carolina, Washington State and New Zealand, has been accredited by Joint Commission since 1992 and has certified more than 7,000 peers around the world since 2000.

RI Purchase of Partners in Recovery to Ensure Financial Stability, Enhance Quality of Care

two figuresLast week, RI International announced that it is now the sole member of Partners in Recovery, LLC, an Arizona-based behavioral services provider. Partners in Recovery is a joint venture formed in 2010 by RI International, Jewish Family and Children’s Services and Marc Community Resources, Inc. Partners in Recovery was formed to provide a recovery-oriented alternative to traditional case management and medical management services.

RI International is proud of the accomplishments made by Partners in Recovery over the past six years to serve thousands of Valley residents as part of the broader mental health network in Arizona. It has been one of many providers in our state that have stabilized and improved the mental health industry in Maricopa County and helped integrate it more effectively in the healthcare industry.

However, over the course of the past few months, ongoing discussions among the entity members of Partners in Recovery revealed concerns about the long-term fiscal health of the organization. Subsequent discussion resulted in RI International exercising a buy election in the organization’s documents that allows it to purchase the other entity members’ interests. Such provisions are common in the business structure of Limited Liability Companies in a wide spectrum of industries. As a result, in late October, RI International acted to become the sole owner of Partners in Recovery.

RI International took this step in order to ensure the financial stability of Partners in Recovery, as well as to prevent any potential service disruptions that might take place due to financial issues. Additionally, RI International wants to build upon the level of care already provided by Partners in Recovery to better support consumers and families in years to come.

So what does this mean for the Valley mental health community?

In the short term, for both consumers and employees, it should be business as usual at Partners in Recovery while any remaining legal and transactional issues are finalized. No significant staffing changes are planned at this time, and consumer care will not be changed nor interrupted.

In the long term, RI International will use its extensive experience and resources to enhance the level of care provided by Partners in Recovery. Specifically:

  • Partners in Recovery serves more than 6,000 individuals with serious mental illness by providing case management and medical support. It also has co-located routine primary care in six locations that span from Wickenburg and Peoria to Mesa and Chandler. These clinical management services are a core component of service, but require multiple adjunct services delivered by other agencies in order to fully support each individual and their unique needs.

partners in recovery campuses

By contrast, RI International delivers a broad array of supportive services — including sub-acute crisis inpatient care; 23-hour crisis stabilization; crisis respite; residential, individual and group counseling; peer supports and education; supportive housing and supportive employment — at sites in Peoria, central Phoenix and the East Valley. RI International, as sole owner of Partners in Recovery, can provide a full array of comprehensive and integrated care more efficiently than ever before.

So instead of the current piecemeal approach to serving individuals and families, these services will be better aligned through increased integration between RI International and Partners in Recovery. This opportunity has simply been missed previously, even when it was readily achievable.

  • RI International will infuse its extensive expertise in crisis care, suicide prevention, peer support and education and other related areas of expertise into Partners in Recovery’s course of care. It’s important to note that these are RI International’s core competencies, and while Partners in Recovery provided such services in concert with the other organizations involved, these areas are where RI International excels.
  • RI International’s expertise also extends to areas such as technology, compliance and quality assurance, and cost savings and efficiencies — areas that will lower costs while improving the overall customer experience for those in our care. This will include RI International and Partners in Recovery partnering together in discussions with the Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care health plan on how they can better support their population management/pay-for-value initiatives.

RI International appreciates the support from Jewish Family & Children’s Services and Marc Community Resources, Inc. in helping build Partners in Recovery and ensure it has a positive impact on thousands of consumers.

But the bottom line is, RI International’s sole ownership will lead to a more financially stable organization that enhances the quality of care it provides for Maricopa County residents well into the future.

Press Releases Pertaining to Partners in Recovery

  • 10-28-2016 – RI International Becomes Sole Member of Partners in Recovery (PIR) Behavioral Health Services (Read more here)
  • 11-01-2016 – Status Update: JFCS and Marc Center Communicate They Contest Matter of Partners in Recovery (PIR) Ownership (Read more here)

Is Mental Health Working for Hispanics?

hands“This is not working for me,” the man muttered in my direction as he stormed out of the large banquet room. It was November 19, 2012, and the mood at the Goldwater Institute annual dinner was somber after Mitt Romney’s clock had been cleaned by President Obama just days earlier.

Today, I’m the CEO and President of a non-partisan, not for profit 501c3 Community Mental Health Center, RI International, but at the time I was an executive with a publically traded, for profit health plan. Several of our leadership were in attendance for the event, which was sponsored by the organization named after Arizona-based Barry Goldwater and which describes itself as a “watchdog for conservative ideals.”

Governor of Oklahoma Mary Fallin was the first keynote, and she explained to the audience that every single elected congressional official in her reddest of states was a Republican. She asked what the party should learn from the loss to Obama, and concluded… nothing. We should double-down on our values and keep up the good fight, she encouraged the audience.

Next up was Fox News conservative pundit Tucker Carlson. He echoed Fallin’s conclusion… nothing to learn.

Then, he paused. “Well, maybe one thing,” he added. “Maybe we should make sure Hispanics don’t think we hate them.” Carlson was clearly trying to add some humor to the subject of changing US demographics and their impact on presidential elections, but the man who protested by walking out was not humored.

There have been discussions for many years about changing demographics. Four years ago, Carlson targeted political leadership and challenged them it was vital that they pay attention to this key demographic and bring Latino voters into the fold. No more talk. Time for action. He described the significant growth in the Hispanic population, which reached 57 million in 2015, or approximately 17% of our country’s total.

But, what about behavioral healthcare?

Have we done any better in bringing Latinos into the fold?

Is mental health working for Hispanics? Or, are we the ones walking out on the demographic realities?

changing demographics in US population

Changing demographics in US population

When community mental health was launched in the 1960s, Hispanics made up a mere 4% of the population. Today, Hispanics comprise more than 30% of individuals residing in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. Other key states include Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey and New York.

And, the shift continues. In many western states, the majority of children in Kindergarten through 6th grade are Hispanic.

Historically, a discussion of race and ethnicity has prompted behavioral health leaders to point to our efforts to strengthen “cultural competency.” Check mark. We’ve done our part, right?

My boss at Magellan Health used to say that simply was not enough. When I worked for Richard Clarke, he always insisted that our behavioral health leadership team also use the words “race and equity.” He came out of an education background where the culture was strongly focused on active ownership, and not simply passive acknowledgement.

Richard formed a regular breakfast think tank group, in collaboration with local community and behavioral health leaders focused on change. The meetings included leaders of organizations that had specialized in meeting the needs of Latinos with mental health needs and whose client base was more than 50% non-white. Chicanos Por La Causa, Ebony House, Native American Connections, People of Color Network and Valle del Sol.

We borrowed from the educational/institutional model in our discussions:

  • Confront individual bias and racism
  • Transform institutional policies and practices
  • Accelerate systemic change

But, two questions were key then, and it seems they are still the appropriate ones now.

First, dis-aggregate your data by race/ethnicity.

Match up the racial/ethnic background of the individuals for whom you are funded to deliver care and cross-walk those penetration rates to the actual percentages in the population. If you find strong mismatches, start a tough discussion of why.

We found our system was serving many Latinos, but not nearly as many as the Arizona population data would suggest existed within our covered lives.

One of the key actions that resulted was outreaching and engaging the community promotoras, lay Hispanic community members who have received specialized training to provide basic health education to others in the community. We learned promotoras were not professional healthcare workers, generally women and extremely effective in sharing and connecting individuals who needed services.

Second, review the composition of your top leadership.

Several years ago, when I was serving on the Board of Directors for the National Council for Behavioral Health, the trade association for community mental health centers, we engaged an external firm to help develop a strategic plan.

The board reflected the composition of the leadership of the nation’s nearly 2,500 non-profit CMHCs, which meant that the majority were white males, and there were only one or two people of color. The suggestion: Focus on racial and ethnic diversity within leadership activities, developing collaborative relationships with organizations that represent diverse ethnic members.

The answers to the above questions are pretty similar across the majority of mental health, both at the plan and retail levels. Whether state authorities, health plans or provider organizations, we haven’t delivered the kind of care that connects with Hispanics in the same way as the rest of the population. The service penetration data says we must do better.

And, we’ve not recruited and hired the executive leadership to help us make the breakthroughs necessary.

Third, evaluate your cultural delivery and sensitivity.

It’s common for anyone to want to say, “My family member does not have any mental health problems,” but this may occur more frequently with the cultural stigma among the Hispanic community.

Do we more closely align with Carlson’s plea to engage and include, and ask how our services are working for Hispanics? Or… do we more closely align with the frustrations of the individual who walked out because change was too frustrating?

Maybe instead of an annual dinner, it’s time for a regular behavioral health race and equity think tank breakfast in your community.

Peer Supports: Where’s the Evidence?

peer supports panelIt was the late 1990s, and there was little published evidence on the efficacy of peer supports. Georgia’s Wendy Tiegreen had grown up in behavioral health… literally. Her father led a non-profit community mental health center, and she had seen the volunteer corps of people in recovery firsthand. These individuals understood the level of pain others were experiencing and were frequently providing informal supports. Wendy had heard of a couple of pockets of similar programs in New York, but that was about it.

Five years earlier, Bill Anthony and the psychiatric rehabilitation movement had declared the 1990s “the decade of recovery.” But, unfortunately, the concepts of “what’s strong, not what’s wrong” and peer supports had simply not made any material headway into mainstream mental health. In over 2,000 community mental health centers across the country, “recovery” was a word seldom used and peer support staff did not exist.

At the time, Wendy was one of the program leaders at the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) which occupied the middle floors of the 2 Peachtree Street high rise in downtown Atlanta. Larry Fricks’ office was just down the hall. He was the director of the Office of Consumer Relations and Recovery and had helped co-found the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN), which beginning in 1992 had since hosted one of the largest statewide annual conventions in the nation of people receiving mental health services.

From the beginning, GMHCN had surveyed its membership of “consumers” and publicized their annual top five objectives, with increased employment opportunities continuously holding the top spot. One of their most acclaimed successes nationally was supporting nearly 3,000 individuals in finding meaningful work in Georgia communities by the August 1999 convention.

Peer support panel

Former US Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher with Dr. Jerry Reed and Representative Patrick Kennedy

It was also in 1999 that the Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health was published. Another Georgia connection, Dr. David Satcher was also US Secretary of Health at the time and a founding director and senior advisor to the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. This key report was important for many reasons, but in particular, it introduced “self-help groups” and peer supports as an emerging evidence based practice and chronicled the history of the recovery movement.

Satcher and company described in detail the consumer movement of the 1970s and its protest of the indignities and abuses experienced in psychiatric inpatient facilities. They trace the history back to former patients Clifford Beers and Judi Chamberlin. In 1908, Beers wrote “A Mind That Found Itself” and ignited the first reform movement. In the 1960s, Chamberlin, with a similar asylum experience and motivated by the civil rights movement, became one of the primary leaders forming liberation organizations to advocate for increased self-determination and basic rights.

Judi Chamberlin, 1978

Judi Chamberlin, “On Our Own” (1978)

In 1978, Chamberlin wrote “On Our Own,” which the Surgeon General’s report referred to as a “benchmark in the history of the consumer movement.” It led to much more widespread understanding of the extra difficulties of experiencing mental health challenges and what services were really like. Over the next 20 plus years, Chamberlin was successful in raising the bar, with this inclusion in the 2000 report from the National Council on Disability, “Patient privileges, such as the ability to wear their own clothes, leave the confines of psychiatric facility, or receive visitors, should instead be regarded as basic rights.”

In the late 1990s, it would be several more years before SAMHSA would recognized peer support services and Consumer operated programs as evidence based practices, which they later did in 2002 and 2009, respectively. Meta Services was beginning to hire peers in Phoenix, Arizona and formulate key concepts around a recovery organization, but it would be a few years before the impact was known outside the Southwest, and the Company would not change its name to Recovery Innovations until 2005.

Wendy Tiegreen and Larry Fricks

Georgia’s Wendy Tiegreen and Larry Fricks

In this context, with the timing just right, Wendy Tiegreen and Larry Fricks joined forces with a mission to advance peer supports and recovery in Georgia. In 1999, they achieved a striking breakthrough, and successfully brokered with CMS (federal Medicaid) the first statewide provision of billable Peer Support Services. Their crystal clear and yet audacious goal was to build out the lived experience voice and in so doing to also expand and transform the thoughts and minds of administrators and policy makers, while creating a new employment niche for peer providers.

These Georgia innovators quickly realized that their victory would be short-lived without the necessary infrastructure, and over the course of the next 18 months, they led the construction of the curriculum and credentialing required for success. In December 2001, 35 individuals gradated in the first class of Certified Peer Specialists. Throughout this system redesign, the DBHDD team focused not only on peer supports but on what creates recovery and how to build environments conducive to recovery, as they saw these elements as crucial to a successful implementation.

15 years later, Georgia is a national leader with $20 million per year in utilization of services provided by Certified Peer Supports. They have continued to expand the model outside the original core focus, and these services now include peer respite, drop-in centers, wellness centers, and peer supported warm lines. Certified Peer Specialists also serve in administrative roles in addition to the traditional direct services roles. In 2009, Sherry Jenkins Tucker, the Executive Director of GMHCN, was awarded the Mental Health America Clifford Beers award, designated for a “mental health consumer whose service and leadership best… improve conditions for and attitudes toward people with mental health conditions.”

Today, Wendy Tiegreen is the “Medicaid expert for Peer Support” guru, having consulted with 37 states to adopt and implement peer supports as a Medicaid billable service. She has provided technical assistance through CMS, SAMHSA, NASMPHD and the National Association of State Legislators, and averages two to three state visits per year. And… she is not resting on her laurels. Georgia is continuing to expand the application of peer support, with young adult, formal addiction, co-occurring disorders and trauma informed care tracks. Now, she’s turning her attention to extra credentials for health coaching and prevention, as peer supports becomes approved for a whole health approach.

See Link: Georgia’s Community Behavioral Health Provider Manual which, within, defines the state’s various Peer Support services.

After their success in Georgia, Larry Fricks partnered with Ike Powell and launched the Appalachian Consulting Group (ACG), received a SAMHSA Lifetime Achievement Voice Award and became an integrated care and recovery leader with the National Council for Behavioral Health, appearing on the Today Show in 2008 after his story was included in the book “Strong in the Broken Places.” Last month, Larry gave the keynote at the 25 year celebration of the GMHCN annual conference and reviewed the success, from grassroots to national innovation and from pioneering certified peer specialists to documentation of reduced hospital admissions and crisis costs.

See Link: SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions, operated by the National Council for Beahvioral Health (Larry Fricks is the Deputy Director)

Almost 20 years later, the published evidence of peer supports has grown but we still have a long way to go in building the rigorous research required to take the program to scale.

To be fair though, I would argue that the same could be said for traditional mental health programs (counseling, case management, medical management, etc.) During the recession, from 2010 to 2012, my team at a large health plan closely tracked 6,000 individuals with serious mental illness who lost access to the core services described above and the vast majority experienced little change or fared slightly better in their two year absence (the algorithm included over 15 key indicators including community outcomes and costs).

If we used the world happiness scale as our index instead, the existing infrastructure of traditional mental health services would be strongly challenged on every core metric:

  1. Income per person
  2. Social supports and connectedness
  3. Health life expectancy
  4. Freedom to make life choices

80 to 85% of those with serious mental illness are unemployed. A significant number live alone, and don’t have someone to talk to about their problems or go out to dinner with on a Friday night. The years of potential life lost as a result of heart disease, diabetes, COPD, suicide and accidental deaths puts them on par with individuals in lower income countries. And, finally, we are seeing a call for increased assisted outpatient treatment (AOT), a euphemism for court-ordered and mandated outpatient care.

By contrast, it’s self-evident that hiring people with lived experience and providing them training as Certified Peer Supports would positively impact several of the happiness core metrics.

So, again, where are we with the evidence on peer support?

Wendy and I had a conversation with leadership from the National Institute of Mental Health recently to review the work completed to date and request funding be targeted at more rigorous outcomes research going forward.

Over the last 20 years, Wendy has compiled and maintained a quick guide to peer supports outcomes and credibility, and she believes much of this work has been very good, but we need more work and that is very challenging when the resources to date have required stringing together funding from occasional grants.

I was working in the Georgia behavioral health system in the late 1990s and remember what it felt like as these dynamics came together. Like today, there was resistance and many naysayers, but Wendy, Larry and countless others made tremendous breakthroughs, in large part because of the pioneers before them who had made it possible.

It just feels similar now in that we as a nation are poised to make the same kind of full scale advances to peer supports and recovery that Georgia and Arizona did in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When the White House takes notice, I think maybe something special is occurring.

Earlier this year, Symplur participated in a White House workshop which was focused on engaging participants as partners in research. Symplur is an analytics and big data company interested in the intersection of social media and healthcare. After discussions with Obama administration officials, they went back and began “building on the effort of many to strengthen the voices in healthcare that are too often ignored.”

Stakeholder Mix at Healthcare Conferences

For those of us in behavioral healthcare, the word “patients” is off-putting, but the essence of Symplur’s findings are that healthcare conferences don’t value the input of individuals who receive services. Only 1 in 100 influencers is a patient, and the depressing statistic has been stagnant since 2013. On the question of evidence for the approach, the Symplur team concludes, “The inherent value and profit of partnering with patients for healthcare conferences should at this point be self-evident.”

Last Thursday was a watershed moment at the White House, which has been the host of upteen mental health summits. This one was the last in a series on Making Health Care Better, with previous sessions addressing diabetes and heart disease, and this one focused on suicide prevention. And, for the first time, a panel was explicitly brought together to focus on the value of lived experience (see picture at beginning of blog).

Dr. John Draper moderated the discussion and introduced pioneers who came out of the closet even prior to the late 1990s when Wendy and Larry began their work . These leaders included Heidi Bryan, Leah Harris and DeQuincy Lezine, the latter a psychologist who leads the newly founded lived experience division for the American Association of Suicidology.

He concluded his opening remarks with the question, “Looking for evidence?”

And, as he scanned the panel of peer leaders, his answer, “Look here.”

Download: Quick Guide to Peer Supports Research/Outcomes

Yes, I can! What if We All Embraced Recovery?

disability rights are civil rights

In his 1965 “If I Ruled the World” album, Sammy Davis Jr. sang,

Yes, I can, suddenly

Yes, I can

Gee I’m afraid to go on, has turn into

Yes, I can

Wind me up then watch me fly

A regular sort of sunburned Superman I

Are you ready, I can climb Everest

Yes, I can

I can fight here all night and never rest

Yes I can

In fact, one of three lead members of the Rat Pack and so successful in the industry he was called Mr. Show Business, Sammy Davis, Jr. was nonetheless much more familiar with a jarring repetition of “No… you can’t.”

That’s a phrase that some in our society have heard much more frequently than others.

We tend to think of being held back only in terms of success, but it’s much more fundamental than that. Our American family has evolved to the sophistication that our lives are extraordinarily interdependent. Our daily lives depend on the contributions of millions of people, who provide the goods, services, infrastructure, government and joint defense we rely upon.

Humans find meaning and purpose in determining their niche and pitching in their own unique impact. And, when this is thwarted, we’re like ants with no role in the colony.

All of us have occasionally heard “No, you can’t.” We’re told we’re not smart enough. Not persistent enough. We don’t have the resources for the preparation. But, the message is shouted from society at people with serious mental illness over and over.

This past year a blogger wrote in the Huffington Post that it was time to discontinue the use of the word recovery for mental health. She suggested such a concept doesn’t exist for people with more serious challenges. Legislative reform efforts highlight recovery from addiction but decrease self direction for individuals with mental health challenges.

A top healthcare policy maker called for “Bring[ing] Back the Asylums,” and shared his belief that there are a million Americans currently living in communities who are in fact so permanently disabled with serious mental illness they should instead be confined to institutions.

Just three years ago, the CEO for one of America’s largest Community Mental Health Centers talked of hiring 200 peers, individuals with lived experience of serious mental health challenges, but explained that their roles would be limited to janitorial and administrative functions.

Repeated. No. You can’t.

It is time to change the narrative. It is time we all embraced recovery. Time for a different answer to three questions.

Question one. What if I don’t move to the back of the bus?

In 1955, a seamstress and activist in Montgomery, Alabama boarded a bus and sat in the first row behind the front section dedicated to white riders. When those seats were filled, she refused the order to move to the back of the bus.

Her protest was a powerful symbol in inspiring other African Americans and a catalyst of the civil rights movement, which would help pave the hard road to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Society stood up to the institutional barriers that prevented African Americans from full participation, with such key rights as electing public officials. In Selma, Alabama, African Americans were legally entitled to vote, except…

No, you can’t, without a sponsor who has previously voted.

No, you can’t, without passing the literacy test.

No, you can’t, without paying the voter’s fee.

After hearing these kinds of messages over and over and over, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus.

Question two. What would I do if I was not afraid?

What contribution would I make? If I didn’t fear looking foolish. Didn’t fear failing. Wasn’t concerned about not staying “in my place.”

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer for Facebook, asked a group of Harvard MBA students to stand if they had previously considered leading their company, their industry, their field. It concerned her that too few female students did so. Equal or more intelligent, articulate, capable, but lacking the ambition of their male counterparts.

They too have heard messages. We have the highest number of female CEOs ever a recent article stated… at 5% compared with male CEOs at its lowest level… or 95%. No, you can’t.

But, Sheryl turned herself straight against the wind and wrote Lean In, inspiring women to support one another, and to consider the hopes and dreams of what they would accomplish… if they were not afraid.

Question three. What if my answer is… Yes, I can.

Recently, a group promoting the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games created the most bombastic, spectacularly positive and frame-breaking video of the year, We’re the Superhumans, which used as its theme song Sammy Davis Jr.’s Yes, I can.

It certainly wasn’t the first time that the disability community has borrowed from the African American struggle for civil rights. Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Social services are no longer a matter of the charity of “do-gooders,” but the requirement of a civil right. Our constitution now demands an end to institutionalizing and/or segregating people with disabilities as the answer. And, it calls for an end to discrimination in hiring for competitive employment.

The first efforts to obtain dignity and equal opportunity for people with disabilities were much like our mental health promotion. Flyers and bumper stickers included the following:

  • Think Inclusively! School, Work, Play, Community, Life
  • Assume Competence
  • Label Jars… Not People
  • Not Being Able to Speak is Not the Same as Not Having Anything to Say
  • Celebrate Community
  • If you… Thought the… Wheel… Was a good idea… You’re going to love the ramp.
  • Don’t Think That We Don’t Think
  • Raging Against the Dying of the Light: Institutions Are Not the Solutions

The movement has been adamant about the power of language. “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will really hurt me.” I visited the remarkable Disability Empowerment Center in Phoenix recently and noticed that it has been powerfully renamed Ability 360.

Helen Keller emerged as a champion of the disability rights movement, determined to break the hold of discrimination, and the language of “childlike,” “dependent,” and “disabled.”

Yes, I can.

injustice is a threat to justice everywhereBut, society refused to yield. Material change just did not result from the most thoughtful and persuasive plea. And, so people with disabilities continued modeling the Civil Rights Movement. The iconic photo at right includes the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote on a banner, “Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere.”

In the 1980s, the activist national network ADAPT encouraged nonviolent civil disobedience to demand changes in policies that excluded people with disabilities from full community participation. They were strongly focused on public transportation, including handcuffing themselves to buses that were not accessible to people in wheelchairs. One of their flyers stated, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

Our Declaration of Independence set all these expectations in motion 240 years ago. “All men are created equal… with certain unalienable rights… whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.”

It was the capitol crawl that finally pushed the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act across the finish line and the signing by President George H.W. Bush. After an interminable delay with the House of Representatives, at a large rally, 60 activists abandoned their wheel chairs to climb up the 83 stone steps to access the U.S. Capitol Building.

And, this brings us back to the most remarkable re-frame. “We’re the Superhumans” is a delicious, toe-tapping celebration of the indomitable human spirit and the power of “Yes, I can!” The Guardian described it:

“[Superhumans] shows exactly how much excitement you can generate if you cram the talent of 140 athletes, musicians and ordinary people with disabilities into three minutes of television. From a pilot steering a plane with her feet to a blind pianist, it’s a celebration of an extraordinary range of talent.”

I just cannot get singer Tony Dee’s version of Sammy Davis, Jr. out of my head or stop thinking about wheelchair stuntman Aaron Fotheringham’s death-defying flight. It’s “Yes, I can” sung in the shower at the top of your lungs.

African Americans. Females. People with disabilities. LGBT. Different differences. Same challenges.

How Does Any of this Relate to Mental Health?

But, the three questions. What if… I don’t move to the back of the bus? What if… I’m not afraid? What if… my answer is Yes, I can.

People with disabilities, like those in a wheelchair, Deaf, blind or with an intellectual and/or developmental disability, still have an unacceptably high unemployment rate. But put another way it’s clear they’ve had much more success than we’ve had in mental health. Nearly 40% of these individuals have competitive employment compared with about 15% for those with serious mental illness.

The strong focus of the disability community has been on the law, on their abilities, and on society’s obligation to provide the reasonable accommodations and supports for them to play meaningful roles, to fully contribute and connect in their families, neighborhoods, and larger communities.

But mental health is very different, right?

The ADA doesn’t apply to mental health, does it?

“We’re now on the cusp of expanding what we understand to be a disability to include those invisible disabilities, the ones we can’t necessarily accommodate with a curb cut.” These are the words of Representative Patrick Kennedy, a front runner in leadership characterized by sharing his own mental health lived experience.

If we weren’t crystal clear in 1990 that the ADA also applied to mental health, the Olmstead Supreme Court ruling eliminated any doubts. Actually, I’m going to start instead naming this watershed ruling for its plaintiff, the Lois Curtis decision, after her Georgia lawsuit that went to the highest court (Olmstead was the state health commissioner and defendant).

On June 22, 1999, the US Supreme Court held that unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and stated that people with psychiatric disabilities are legally entitled to live in communities of their choosing.

If you are a person with Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, or Major Depression, a history of trauma or debilitating anxiety, a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, or other serious mental illness challenge, I’ve got three questions for you.

  • What if… I don’t move to the back of the bus? What if I reject society’s expectations of disability and dependency?
  • What if… I’m not afraid? What if I dare think of hopes and aspirations? What am I good at? How might I contribute?
  • What if… my answer is Yes, I can.

There will be challenges. Recovery doesn’t mean society suddenly accepted Sammy Davis, Jr. It doesn’t mean a Hillary Clinton presidency would dramatically change the proportion of female CEOs. It doesn’t mean a person in a wheelchair can suddenly walk.

It means we dream. And, we take actions to achieve our goals. We connect. We contribute. We participate fully in this incredible American family. We chart a course for others to gain courage and follow.

I am still moved by Representative Kennedy’s assertion that it’s time to end mental health promotion and shift our efforts to enforcing the law. “We stand on the doorstep to make momentous progress in advancing the cause of this new civil rights struggle started by the work of President Kennedy over 50 years ago.”

Yesterday, North Carolina-based Trillium Health Resources hosted a Recovery Summit in partnership with RI International (formerly Recovery Innovations). RI employs more than 500 peers, many of whom also have experience with addiction and/or homelessness in addition to mental health challenges.

They work as peer supports, wellness coaches, crisis navigators and make a difference in the lives of countless others.

And, today, I had the privilege to participate in a White House afternoon forum on Better Healthcare, which for the first time included a panel of peer leaders, and the discussion was about strengths and abilities instead of deficits and problems, and “lived expertise.”

It all depends on how we collectively answer the three questions. This is just another day, September 30 and the last day of recovery month. Or… it’s time everyone embrace recovery for mental health.

Something that sings in my blood

Is telling me

Yes, I can

#RecoveryNow

22 Days: How Many Push-ups for Veterans and Suicide?

stars stripes heart handsWith co-author – Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas

In the span of 22 days, Iceland went from being an off-the-beaten-path, exotic vacation destination to THE place to visit. Hard to imagine it was ever considered “fringe,” given the stunning and unique untouched nature that results from the island’s combination of ice and fire near the Arctic Circle, with immense glaciers and over 100 volcanoes.

Most simply didn’t know enough about this small Nordic island country to “immerse [themselves] in ethereal panoramic landscapes and breathe in the pure mountain air of this unspoiled land,” as the Visit Iceland website suggests. But the small population and infrequent sightseers knew its treasures, from adorable puffins to dazzling Northern Lights to exhilarating waterfalls. The value was largely missed by the rest of the world.

Until it came to the surface in the form of an erupting volcano.

volcanoEyjafjallajökull, which belched to life in April 2010, ejected so much volcanic ash into the atmosphere that it created the largest shut-down of commercial air traffic in Europe since the Second World War. Much of Northern Europe was grounded continuously for over a week, but sporadic disruptions meant the story was front and center in the news… every day… for 22 days.

In hindsight, there could not have been a more effective means of getting the word out about Iceland. In the five years following, the number of international visitors to that tiny country has nearly tripled and tourism now grows at a rate of 20% per year.

Iceland was once a fringe destination, but now it seems everyone knows someone who has been there recently. And they’re telling their friends. Word is spreading. The critical mass has created a movement.

Suicide and veterans

22to0Last September, Magellan Health spearheaded a suicide prevention month campaign to bring attention to veterans’ suicide and called it 22 to 0, based upon the estimate that had been circulated for many years that approximately 22 veterans die across the nation each day (more on the right number later).

Senior VP Michael Braham stated using social media was important to focus on reducing the number, “because anything greater than zero is too many.” Mike was an officer in the Marine Corps and flew combat missions during the Gulf War, but he’s also a passionate suicide prevention advocate.

One evening, after an event in Washington, DC, Mike came upon a man standing on the far side of the rail of a downtown bridge, threatening to jump off. Some in the crowds jeered for the man to go ahead, but Mike engaged the man, who nevertheless let go of the rail. As he tumbled toward the water, Mike lunged and grabbed his arm…and held on. The man couldn’t swim and would likely have perished if it weren’t for Mike’s rescue.

Unfortunately, a committed few who stand against the crowd cannot change our world. Change takes everyone, and 22 to 0 was an effort to engage beyond the faithful few.

A Worldwide Phenomenon

A few weeks ago, Sally and I received a challenge from Greg Dicharry, who also hails from Magellan Health and who leads their national youth empowerment programs, including the innovative MY LIFE program in partnership with outstanding youth leaders.

Greg challenged us to the 22 Push-up Challenge. When Sally and I looked into it, we discovered a global phenomenon that was reaching masses of people. This week, an NBC Nightly News story reported that celebrities from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to Snoop Dog have been posting videos showing their support, adding to the collective millions of push-ups already performed since the movement went viral.

Akin to the ice-bucket challenge that raised millions for ALS, NBC reported that the push-ups are not raising cash, but awareness, calling them not a show of strength, but an act of compassion. And the masses have showed up, full of passion and determination. Finally, our conversation is moving beyond the mental health and public health experts, and just like the breast cancer movement, people of all backgrounds can do something to help muster the political will our cause has been lacking.

On a fairly regular basis, the suicide prevention and grief support community bemoans being largely ignored, underfunded, and marginalized. However, with this incredible social media movement, we are front and center on almost everyone’s radar. Our colleagues, college friends, children – even pets – are joining in solidarity all over the globe; the new and needed voices for the movement are arriving by the thousands. This moment gives us an opportunity to shape the conversation by meeting people where they are.

For some who have participated, they have found parallels that create connection to this cause. Those in less than ideal fitness wrestled with fears of being challenged, embarrassed, of looking weak, or receiving backlash from our own community.

Sound familiar?

These are the same fears many Veterans face when deciding whether or not to reach out for support. Whether or not to speak up about their pain. The truth is that each of us who faced our fears and exposed our vulnerabilities gained from this experience. We started new conversations where conversations did not exist before. We helped shift the dialogue from suicide statistics to resources and recovery.

What’s the Right Number?

Some veteran’s support groups have raised concerns over the lack of context and research accuracy with the number 22, which was based on a sample from 21 states from 1999 to 2011. They express concern that those who hear about 22 push-ups assume that these deaths are primarily from those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, when veteran suicide also strikes those who are much older and perhaps never saw combat duty.

Last year, the Washington Post Fact Checker gave the idea “two Pinocchios” and concluded, “The actual number of veteran suicides a day might be higher than 22 for a given population of veterans facing certain risk factors, and lower for another group.” Some have suggested a campaign that varies between 18 and 22, which was the original conclusion of the original VA’s 2012 Suicide Data Report.

But other experts have raised concern that push-ups that only represent veterans miss the point. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), there are 117 suicide per day in the US. I was contacted early on by a national expert who suggested we do 117 push-ups per day instead of just 22.

Others have proposed that any focus on those who have died is the wrong message. Instead, we should highlight the millions who currently struggle or who have in the past, but found a way to survive. We should offer hope, healing, and help. Changing the conversation will strengthen our entire society and begin to truly reduce suicide as individuals realize they are not alone, and that others have found a way through the pain.

Ken Norton, Executive Director for NAMI New Hampshire, began doing 30 push-ups daily to focus on the average number of daily active rescues for those who engaged the Veterans Crisis Line and/or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

What’s the right number? The 22pushups website that launched this incredibly successful social movement poses the question and answers:

“Every pushup counts so don’t be shy to show your support for our veterans. You can do as many or few pushups as you can or choose. Whether it’s 1 or 100 in a row, we will accept them however they come. They can be assisted (on your knees), incline (on a desk/wall), or if you physically are unable to do any, we’ll even take air pushups.”

Bottom-line… they all count. Do what you can.

22 Days Is the Difference

Some have asked if the extraordinarily short news cycle in 2016 will continue to shorten or whether we have reached bottom. We seldom see the public hold its attention on any news item for more than a few days. And, it’s exceedingly rare that a story keeps our attention for nearly three weeks, for 22 straight days.

But, when it does, magic happens and the world changes. Some have criticized the 22 pushup challenge because it seems to lack a specific ask. Is social media dissemination the means or the end? Well, Eyjafjallajökull had no other end than bringing attention to a small island towards the top of the earth, and the crowds are now filling Reykjavik.

Here’s what we do know. Without this challenge, we wouldn’t have seen the pictures at the bottom of this post:

  • Ursula Whiteside getting down on the floor alongside football great Herschel Walker and talk about veterans, suicide and peer support (Ursula is a clinical psychologist and her website www.nowmattersnow.org incorporates her own lived experience)
  • Ken Norton inspiring us with his humor, guns and his focus on life, and the encouragement and reality that survivors survive (Ken is Executive Director of the New Hampshire National Alliance On Mental Illness affiliate and led the development of the CONNECT program)
  • Shelby Rowe’s courageous and vulnerable posts (who interrupted a date to video and post her push-ups)! (Shelby is manager of education and prevention for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and a suicide attempt survivor.)
  • Taryn Aiken’s “Lean on me” and tears in a post viewed 1,600 times (Taryn is a founding member of the Utah AFSP chapter and has seen suicide from all angles.)

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and we’ve been watching an amazing international conversation. For those of us who confronted our fears of shame and rejection by engaging in this 22 day effort, we now have greater strength and empathy. We realize our daily ritual, which honors the suffering and strength that comes with suicidal thoughts and behavior, is a burden we can all help carry. It’s a dialogue that includes everyone.

On this last day, we did the right number. So, how many push-ups did we do today?

All we could muster.

And…

Not enough.

Join the movement.

 

Please note:

Confidential help is available now for Veterans and their families by caring responders at the Veterans Crisis Line. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press “1” to engage with specially trained and experienced individuals helping Veterans of all ages and circumstances. Many are Veterans themselves and understand the life and challenges faced by Veterans of all ages and service eras.

Since its launch in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has answered 2.5 million calls and provided emergency rescues more than 60,000 times. The Veterans Crisis Line also has anonymous online chat and text services. Visit www.veteranscrisisline.net chat or text 838255.

Dr. Caitlin Thompson, the Executive Director for Suicide Prevention at the Veterans Administration, is behind September’s Suicide Prevention Month #BeThere campaign. In addition to professional resources, she says everyone can do something to help prevent suicide. “You don’t have to be a trained professional to support someone who may be going through a difficult time. We want to let people know that things they do every day, like calling an old friend or checking in with a neighbor, are strong preventive factors for suicide because they help people feel less alone. That’s what this campaign is about – encouraging people to be there for each other.”

pushups for vets pushups for vets pushups for vets pushups for vets pushups for vets pushups for vets pushups for vets pushups for vets pushups for vets pushups for vets

Mental Health Policy Action We Can All Get Behind: Crisis Line Investment

mental health worker taking callWith co-author – Dr. Michael Hogan

We are in a rare time when national action to improve mental health services seems possible—even likely. However, the downside of this positive opportunity is that reforms that emerge may be more defined by what can be agreed upon—and probably, inexpensive—rather than what is needed. We write to propose a limited but exceedingly important policy initiative that has already been advanced.

 

But first, a little background:

  • In our view, it’s essential that reform addresses real problems. Creating new national roles (e.g. Assistant Secretary of DHHS for Mental Health) and supporting actions that have already occurred (such as Medicaid’s targeted and limited support for weakening the IMD exclusion) do not count as actions worthy of “the mental health crisis.”
  • National Suicide Prevention LifelineWe believe that a central problem in mental health care is that the US has no national approach or investment in crisis care. While the suicide rate in America continues to rise, the federal government (SAMHSA) spends less than $10M annually to support the effective but under-resourced National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Yet crisis care is pivotal. Crisis lines and crisis systems are on the front lines of suicide prevention, with proven effectiveness but an inadequate infrastructure. With better support in the face of rising call volume, the Lifeline’s network could become a stronger public health safety net for communities across the country. And good crisis care assures that people get what they need and prefer, at a time when they desperately need it. It speeds access and reduces overreliance on institutional care when it is not needed.
  • We were privileged to co-chair the Crisis Care Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. The Task Force included many of the nation’s leaders in delivering excellent and responsive crisis care—despite the lack of federal support. The Task Force’s Report analyzes the problem and makes the case for change. The report is at http://crisisnow.com.
  • To date, modest investments to improve crisis care are almost completely missing from the national debate. One exception is the strong provisions for crisis care in the CCBHC demonstration project—recognizing that CCBHC crisis services would be embedded within funded demonstration projects, and not regional or statewide in scope. A second (modest) proposal in the President’s 2017 budget is for $10M in the SAMHSA budget to improve crisis care. This is a good but insufficient start, and because of politics it is unlikely to get a fair hearing.

What strong proposal to improve suicide prevention and crisis care is on the table? Hundreds of advocates with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention made improved crisis care a core aspect of their national Advocacy Forum just a month ago.Their specific proposal, following recommendations of the Crisis Task Force, is the investment of $55M annually to strengthen crisis lines answering Lifeline calls in all the states. The AFSP action can be viewed on their advocacy page at:http://bit.ly/SupportMHReform.

We urge your personal and organizational support for this investment, which is small enough to be feasible but big enough to be transformational. This request is aligned with policy initiatives (e.g. recent investments in the VA to improve the Veteran’s Crisis Line, and the Crisis Task Force) well-focused on real problems in care, and complimentary to other reform efforts such as those you support, rather than competitive.

We view this policy action as one effort that the often-fractured mental health community can get behind. An investment in crisis lines—preferable housed within comprehensive crisis centers that facilitate access to care, deploy mobile crisis teams and operate crisis residential alternatives—would be the first national leadership in this most urgent sphere of action.

Please contact us if you have questions, concerns or suggestions. We need Crisis Care Now!

David W. Covington, LPC, MBA                                                Michael F. Hogan, PhD


 

New Crisis Center Funded by Delaware Department of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) Opening Announced August 2ND

Delaware Governor Jack Markell said new facility part of state’s efforts to revolutionize Mental Health Services

Newark, DE, July 28, 2016 — Delaware Governor Jack Markell said the new Recovery Response Center (RRC) is the latest accomplishment in his state’s effort to build more robust mental health services. Markell will be joined by State Auditor, Tom Wagner, State Insurance Commissioner, Karen Weldin Stewart, DSAMH Director, Michael Barbieri, and additional elected officials from the region for the grand opening of the facility located at 659 East Chestnut Hill Road, Newark, Delaware, on Tuesday, August 2nd from 1 – 4 pm.

Ri Crisis' RRC

RI Crisis’ RRC, located at 659 East Chestnut Hill Road, Newark, DE.

“This new facility demonstrates the commitment we have made in Delaware to create a robust community-based mental health system,” Markell said. “Individuals experiencing a mental health or addiction crisis need immediate and appropriate evaluation and care. The Recovery Response Center in Newark provides that important first step in getting people in crisis the care they deserve.”

DSAMH Director Michael Barbieri said the crisis staff is broad-based and specifically trained. “Delaware residents in crisis will be met by trained clinicians and peers with lived experience. Under the medical leadership of onsite psychiatric providers, these staff will work quickly to help people rest and de-escalate and take the first steps towards recovery.”

RI International CEO David Covington said the Newark location is the Company’s second crisis center to be opened in the state of Delaware, with a similar program in Ellendale since 2012. “Our Delaware locations will serve thousands of individuals in psychiatric distress each year, with a Living Room model designed to maximize successful return to the community, and defer hundreds of unnecessary visits to hospital emergency departments.”

Steven R. Fasick added, “I’m proud to serve on the board of directors of RI International. There’s a great need for our crisis to recovery services in the Wilmington area, in Delaware, and across the U.S.”

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