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Mental health consumer leader issues statement on Virginia Tech tragedy

Steve Miccio, director of a mental health consumer group called "Project to Empower and Organize the Psychiatrically Labeled (PEOPLe)" in New York State that is staffed by people diagnosed with psychiatric disabilities.

*A Call to Action*

By Steve Miccio, executive director PEOPLe, Inc.; immediate Past President, NYAPRS

Whenever there is a tragedy of any kind that involves the loss of people it is extremely painful and I can't express enough sympathy for the families, students, colleagues and friends at Virginia Tech. I only hope that they find comfort in one another and in the joyful memories of their loved ones. This not only affects the people directly connected to the incident, it has affected all of us and right now we need to be cognizant that this event has traumatized a nation.

The unfortunate outcome of this tragedy will no doubt take aim at the mental health community as it so often does when someone has a history of mental illness prior to such a tragic event. As professionals and people that use mental health services, we must be prepared to address this fallout in a respectful and proactive manner.

We will most likely see the media report stories on mental illness and hear overgeneralizations concerning perceived "dangers" of mental illness. We will here stories blaming the mental health professionals for not protecting the community and we will be witness to the anger and fear from people in our communities surrounding mental illness. These reactions should not impede our progress of developing a recovery-based mental health system. We have been witness to media persecution for too long and it has resulted in increased fear and discrimination.

As we are confronted with the stigma, fear and blame we must assure people that there are literally millions of people being successfully treated for mental illness each year in our country. It is important to note that the majority of people with mental illness are our neighbors, friends and relatives and that mental illness should not be equated with violence.

Now is the time to stress the reality that people can and do recover from mental illness with proper supports and treatment. We should intelligently educate and infuse our knowledge of recovery into the media and within our communities and discuss how important it is for individuals to reach out for help. It's time to tell families and friends to support one another in getting help and treatment rather than ignoring a problem. This should be our time to illustrate the fact that it is acceptable to talk about mental illness or mental health in our schools and communities so that people can begin to understand that there are choices, hope and options for a better quality of life.

This is not the time to fade quietly into the background and wait for the storm to blow over. It may not feel comfortable, but if we don't address and educate our communities with a strong factual and supportive voice we will witness the destruction of the wonderful work that we have been doing in promoting better recovery outcomes for all of the people we serve.

This is the time that we must embrace the opportunity and teach while at the same time help a community to heal. Please find your voice and get out and educate your community about the work that you do and talk about where the mental health field is going to ensure that all people are treated with respect in an effective and efficient recovery-based mental health system.

Steve Miccio

PEOPLe, Inc.

For more information on PEOPLe, Inc. click here.

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While institutionalized for three years as an adolescent in the 1960's, MindFreedom member Dorothy Washburn Dundas was labeled a "schizophrenic" and forced to undergo 40 combined insulin coma-electroshock "treatments." Dorothy says, "I experienced and witnessed many atrocities. I believe that luck, determination, and my own anger and one compassionate advocate were my best friends on the road to my ultimate survival and freedom." Through a number of op-ed pieces, she has voiced her opposition to abusive psychiatric practices. Her poster, "Behind Locked Doors," which she created from her hospital records, is used in training programs. Dorothy lives in the Boston area where she has raised her four wonderful children. She founded and is the sole driver in her "safe, friendly and reliable" car service called The Crystal Lake Express.
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