A conspiracy of hope, to borrow Pat Deegan's phrase, permeated the halls of the Sheraton Hotel where USPRA held its 36th annual conference last week. Second to this "conspiracy" was evidence aplenty calling for closing the lag time between evidence about services and their expansion.
Fourteen countries, plus the U.S., were represented among the 1,900 people attending USPRA's largest conference ever. This included 500 who came for a day-long session about a new housing initiative the Veterans Administration recently announced to help homeless vets with supported employment programs.
Conference highlights, in addition to Deegan's poetic keynote opening included a rousing talk by Patrick Kennedy, former congressman from Rhode Island.
Kennedy is perhaps best known for his campaign to end insurance discrimination with parity legislation known as Wellstone-Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act when he was in Congress. Since leaving office in 2010, Kennedy has stepped up his advocacy.
When it comes to vets, Kennedy is particularly concerned about the 72% who never use the services of the VA. Often they fall between the cracks of parity insurance reform if they do not work for companies employing 50 or more people. Along with co-sponsor of parity legislation, also a retired congressman Jim Ramstad, Kennedy plans a nationwide tour to begin 11/11/11. It will focus public attention and raise consciousness about veterans' battles from traumatic brain injury, PTSD, anxiety, OCD, and addictive disorders, among others, that affect them and their families.
Kennedy is also working to expand brain research. "Neurological disorders are complex," he says, describing his work with One Mind for Research. The secrets of schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimers, OCD - all are now thought to be related to brain development but his concern is with recovery models, not acute crisis, and the overall wiring of the brain.
•Dr. Bob Drake, Dartmouth Medical School, described mental health's evolution from a cottage industry with little attention to outcomes to the current emphasis on recovery programs;;
•Participants from Chicago's BRIDGES, demonstrated a model meeting developed in Tenn., for peer-led recovery education.
•A report from Mass. about progress in reducing seclusion and restraints outlined the structural and cultural changes that have reduced coercive measures, with promising indications from preliminary studies.
•From New Jersey, Peggy Swarbrick, of the Wellness Institute, has been designing the recovery-oriented mental health center of the future. An article she wrote in the Words of Wellness for the Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey asked for responses to design an the ideal model by 2017. Of course, she added, what seems perfect in 2011 might not in 2017. Still the reaction has generated considerable conversation since last year.
•Lauren Spiro reported on SAMHSA's 10 x 10 campaign, to close the life expectancy gap by 10 years in 10 years. Given the statistics indicating life expectancy is 25 years later for people with a mental illness, one person asked why the campaign is not asked for 25 x 10.
SAMHSA is launching several campaigns promoting wellness including a week long initiative between Sept 19-15 that will draw on local resources - schools, libraries, churches, knitting groups, hospitals - to address promising local initiatives.
Celebrating peer services
For many the draw of the conference was an opportunity to learn about peer services, unique in settings across America. One person coming from Australia said her agency saw this as justification for a trip to Boston, her first to the US. She had no time for sight-seeing but was anxious to return to share her new knowledge.
Often traditional agencies will employ peers in capacities such as case managers. Other times peers are part of an on-going team, such as for Assertive Community Treatments.
Of growing interest is the development of certified peer counselors, symbolic of what many consider to be the "exceptionalism" of America.
The largest number, 17, came from Canada, and five of the 10 from Israel were helped by a scholarship from the Israeli Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (ISPRA). In addition, there were four from Australia and from Sweden, three from Finland, two from Italy (2), and one each from another 8 countries including South Africa, Nigeria and Singapore.
Highlights in pictures: