November 9, 2014
I recently had the opportunity to be an exhibitor at the Alternatives Conference in Orlando, Florida. The Alternatives Conference is held by the National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse. The theme of the 28th annual conference was Creating the Future: Change, Challenge, Opportunity. The conference presenters and attendees are comprised of mental health consumers/survivors.
As an exhibitor, I represented Maternal Mental Health and gave out information on that topic. I had the privilege of meeting many of the attendees and some of the presenters. I got to learn from others who are working in the area of mental health as well as hear personal stories of some of the attendees. It broke my heart to learn that in Ohio there are moms losing their babies just because they have a mental health diagnosis. This is not only discrimination and abuse of agency power but, in my opinion, it seems to be a civil rights violation. The fact that this is occurring shows just how ignorant and misinformed the state’s child welfare agency must be. I am certain this is happening in more states that Ohio.
Why is the assumption being made that just because a mom has a mental health diagnosis, she is a negligent mother and cannot take care of her baby or child? Why instead are there not services or resources provided to assist the mother in managing her illness, maintaining stability and overcoming obstacles she may face? Why is this violation of rights occurring? How can the brokenness of this system be repaired? I have to remain hopeful that things can change.
Being an exhibitor at the conference allowed me to meet many wonderful individuals. Everyone I met contributes or assists others in the area of mental health. They all have a voice that needs to be heard. Just because someone receives a mental health diagnosis, it does not make him or her less important or justify losing individual rights. Those I met have overcome adversity and are productive, resilient individuals despite the challenges that have been faced and that continue to be faced.
The Alternatives Conference was an experience that rejuvenated, encouraged and assured me that I should continue my efforts in advocating in the area of mental health related to childbearing. I hope those advocating in the area of mental health will continue to do so and that many others will join the efforts of speaking up and speaking out for the rights of individuals facing mental health challenges.