The NCIL Mental Health Subcommittee appreciates the work of NCIL members over the last few years. We worked hard to fight repressive legislation on mental health. A more palatable version of the legislation finally passed in December as part of the bipartisan CURES bill, Public Law 114-255.
The Subcommittee is now working to ensure that the CURES Act is implemented as supportively as possible for the rights of people with disabilities. Most of the provisions that were included to get support of liberals and moderates will require appropriations. The Subcommittee is also monitoring new legislation to support increased institutionalization of people with psychiatric disability. We will be supporting greater access to services and opposing greater use of institutions.
The forces that led to passage of the CURES bill are largely still present. These include a desire to limit mass killings like those that have happened in Newtown, CT and elsewhere in recent years. When this desire comes up against the powerful gun lobby, scapegoating those labeled with “mental illness” has seemed like the only politically viable solution. The increased tendency towards “law and order” in recent decades has also filled prisons with people who would have been institutionalized in state hospitals in earlier times and has, increasingly, resulted in police shooting people in emotional crisis. Many “advocates” see the solution to these problems as more “hospitals” for long-term institutionalization and more involuntary outpatient commitment.
At the same time, many states have successfully been innovating. Two of the most promising innovations are based on peer support.
Many states provide peer support as a Medicaid service. Often called “peer specialists,” these peer supporters can use their experience to help others through emotional difficulty and crisis. Centers for Independent Living often use our experience to offer and promote these services.
Another promising innovation is peer respites. Peer respite centers are run by people with lived experience of emotional crisis who offer others in crisis an opportunity to voluntarily leave their living situation for a short-term, “respite” stay. These entities offer peer support to their guests during a respite stay.
Perhaps there is way out of the current mess in mental health policy. As we promote access to treatment and other supports and services voluntarily, we can give hope to people in crisis. Recognizing our right to self-determination is necessary. Sharing our experience as people with disabilities must also be part of the solution.
If you want to help, the NCIL Mental Health Subcommittee welcomes new members. We also have a Facebook group, “Mentally Healthy Independent Living” through which we share information.