Mental Health and Wellness Conference

Submitted by chaya on Sun, 05/27/2007 - 16:11

Mental Health and Wellness DMH conference in Worcester

by Chaya Grossberg


Judene Shelley from National Empowerment Center invited Freedom Center members to speak at this conference on May 17, 07. Freedom Center was recently fortunate to get a grant funded, paid intern from Hampshire college. Heather Dodge, who is studying alternative medicine and mental health has brought great spirit and organizational skills to Freedom Center. She came with me to this conference. At the beginning, I think she was quite shocked at the perspectives of many of the speakers. Even though I have been to many conferences, this one surprised me too, as it seemed at first to have the least consumer/survivor voice.

Lots of case managers and social workers spoke for 45 minutes each on and on with PowerPoint presentations about how to get their clients to walk more and drink diet soda instead of regular. I realize that obesity is a problem for many of the clients that these case managers work with, but they seemed to be focusing on side issues, brushing over the fact that the medications cause obesity. John Aldam, a consumer/survivor addressed this very well later on. One speaker spoke of how to get people off the streets, diagnosed, and onto meds, as though that were the path every homeless person needed to follow. She seemed to assume that if someone were homeless, they must need a diagnosis and medication!

Last but not least, Judene Shelley, John Aldam, one other woman, Christine and I spoke. Everyone woke up when we told our personal stories and the stale air in the room started to move. I shared very briefly (we each only had 5 minutes) that about 7 years ago I had some difficult times involving my family, spiritual things and my physical health and was put on meds that made me very sick. I mentioned that I was bedridden for most of two years from the meds, it took me a whole year to get off of them, and that now I teach yoga. I also shared briefly my experience with Windhorse: that the therapists there genuinely meant well, but did not know anything about the medications I was on, so they did not know why I was fatigued and sick from them. Since I am 26 and am usually assumed to be about 20 from my appearance, there is some shock value when I tell this story.

John Aldam spoke of how the medications he was on made him obese and unable to stop eating. He discussed the process of reducing his meds, and how he started exercising and now goes around to clubhouses in the Berkshires and leads hiking and outdoor adventure groups. He recently got funding to continue these programs that started simply because he wanted company walking. John is also in good shape and has a healthy, funny, and down to earth way of presenting himself. Both of us emphasized the slow, step by step process it took us to reduce/come off of our meds.

Many social workers see how hard it is and give up before they start, but I think we sparked some hope in them for their own clients. Lots of people came up to us afterward and were very grateful for our perspectives. One of the organizers of the conference said, “We saved the best for last.” Plus we were on a panel and got to directly address questions from the social worker/case manager crowd. All of the Freedom Center brochures that Heather brought got taken and a lot of the attendees seemed to wish there were Freedom Centers in other parts of the state. We still have a long way to go, clearly, and the beginning talks were upsetting to Heather, John, Judene and I, but the fact that they were so grateful to us, I think, says a lot.

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