We appreciate the National Alliance on Mental Illness Mississippi (NAMI MS) inviting us to be part of an advocacy panel during its annual conference last Friday, May 17. (shown at right: Joy Hogge, Families as Allies; Ta'Shia Gordon, Mississippi Attorney General's office; and Zakiya Summers, ACLU of Mississippi)
Our advocacy update included these areas:
1. Support for families of young children –We continue to expand our work in this area and asked audience members to help us connect with families of young children who might benefit from this support or be willing to give us feedback about what would be most helpful to them.
2. Parent to parent peer support – We shared that in addition to creating the curriculum for and training the trainers of parent peer support in the mental health system, we are developing continuing education and ongoing coaching for parent peer support specialists and also expanding this work to other child serving systems. We also are committed to supporting the young people who are developing youth peer support. All of this work is based on a foundation of ensuring the system of care in Mississippi is family-driven.
3. A Family-Driven System of Care – We are excited that the University of Maryland, as the technical assistance center for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is doing ongoing system of care training and invited Families as Allies to co-train on family driven practice. We look forward to the reform this brings about and coordinating efforts with families, the Department of Mental Health, the Mississippi Wraparound Institute and other partners.
4. The US Department of Justice lawsuit against the Mississippi mental health system – This suit goes to trial in Jackson on June 4 in the courtroom of Judge Carlton Reeves. We urged the NAMI audience to be as informed and involved as possible and provided this written overview. We also encouraged open public dialog that allows all viewpoints to be shared without intimidation and the importance of clarifying information directly with the appropriate sources.
Ms. Summers discussed several ACLU efforts to help people with mental illness: reducing the use of restraint and seclusion in schools; legislation that protects the civil rights of all citizens, including those with mental illness; funding recently mandated intervention courts, and educating the public about the need for more mental health support in schools. You can read more about this critical issue in Cops and No Counselors: How the Lack of School Mental Health Staff Is Harming Students, a publication by the national ACLU office.
Ms. Gordon gave an update on Attorney General Jim Hood’s Mental Health Task Force and how the task force worked together to pass legislation that standardizes the commitment process and fees for it across all Mississippi counties. We are thankful to have been part of this effort and look forward to the task force addressing even broader systemic change. We were glad to see the NAMI audience’s interest in the task force and continue to urge that the task force include any and all consumers and family members who want to participate. We also believe all task force meetings should be open to the public and include opportunities for public comments.