fingers talking - connectionWith so much heartbreaking violence in the news, mental health policy is getting more attention. It’s a shame it takes a crisis — especially a crisis that might not be linked to mental health care at all.

Understandably, many of VOCAL’s members have contacted our staff, asking “what this means” for our ongoing efforts at recovery-oriented systems reform, including the values of self-directed care, informed choice and empowerment and the inclusion of peer support services.

At this time, and at all times, VOCAL stays true to our commitment to non-partisan analysis and the belief that through mutual support, education and empowerment, peers – and all humans – can make their own informed choices.

We encourage each individual member – as well as partners and family members — to educate him or herself on the specifics of any mental health-related policy on the local, state, and/or federal level. Ask yourself, is this policy informed by fear or by smart, evidence-based planning that will lead to long-term change? For example, the use of medical marijuana for mental health-based needs, is taking massive strides nowadays, people are becoming more open about it and want to see how it can help them. They have searched ways on ‘how to enhance your high‘ to get the full effect of products, as well as finding out ones that can help calm their stress and anxiety. The view of mental health is changing, and people want to feel like they are getting the benefits from things that previously have been shunned.

Then, speak up – in the way that fits your style. (Though VOCAL always suggests being respectful, yet assertive.) For a short list of ways to advocate, see our website:

A well-told personal story changes hearts and minds, too. Learn more here.

Regarding the specific provisions of any bill, we refer to the long-standing, carefully articulated positions in our policy statement, approved by our Board of Directors. The statement can be found on our website under “Speak Up.” Core segments include:


– full human rights and self-determination of every individual, regardless of mental state or diagnosis
– the right of each member and member center to self direction
– each person’s individual process of recovery; and
– the worth and dignity of all people.

ON STIGMA: Behind the discrimination, inadequate services, and crippled lives of people with mental illness lies a pervasive, historic misconception of what serious mental illness is and means. VOCAL witnesses the wholeness of people with mental illness, and their potential for full, meaningful, self-directed lives. We believe people can overcome learned dependency and self-stigmatizing and connect with their own drive to recover and reclaim their lives.

THE SYSTEM IN CRISIS:All mental health planning must be driven by visions of the consumer as director of his/her own treatment and recovery, and of wellness and crisis prevention. Consumers must be involved in all aspects of planning on state and local levels.

ACCESS: …Virginia’s budget continues to focus its dollars on residential and crisis care, yet outpatient, person-centered treatment has proven to lead to recovery for many people, thus allowing them to use fewer services and fewer budget dollars. Research on the economic productivity of treatment is new, but it raises challenges to the traditional spending structure focusing on mental health crisis management.

INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT: The application of involuntary treatment fundamentally violates the constitutional rights to privacy and due process among individuals in recovery from psychiatric illness. Involuntary treatment represents an abject failure of the public mental health system, coercing and forcing treatment as a substitute for inadequate funding and access to services.

Virginia is responding to an ongoing need for continued systems transformation as well as the immediate emotionally charged tragedy at Virginia Tech. There seems to be a community-wide fear of violence perpetrated by the mentally ill population. However, a 1998 MacArthur Foundation study showed that people with a mental illness are no more violent than the general public. In reality, people with a mental illness are 2½ times more likely to be the victims of violence then a person without an illness.

Involuntary commitment is often viewed as a way to help people who are so sick they cannot understand their need for care. All too often, however, people with a mental illness seek out help on their own and are not able to access adequate services in a timely manner, if at all, and this delay can lead to a crisis situation in which a person becomes unnecessarily much more sick…

Other organizations in Virginia and beyond have put out specific talking points about the specifics of one federal bill that deals with mental health policy, HR 2646. For the ease of access for our members, some of those are collected in alphabetical order below:

We encourage each member to educate themselves about the many points of views regarding any legislation and to act – or not act — in a way that reflects your own choice and values.

Take care of yourselves, as well. Some people enjoy a walk in nature, a warm shower or time with pets to stay grounded during times of stress. Others enjoy time with peers through a chat on the MHAV warmline (800-400-MHAV) or at a peer support center.

VOCAL values you and we’re glad you’re a part of our network.

Be Well,

VOCAL Staff, Board of Directors and Advocacy Committee