Jim Whipple Interview with Kristi Jamison

From Spotlight on Recovery Issue 28 – 12/13/11

I have been fortunate to get an interview with Kristi Jamison, the executive director of Empowerment Initiatives (EI). Her answers to my simple questions are profound.

1. If you had a free hand and unlimited resources to promote mental health recovery, what would you do?

I would dream big! The first thing is to employ consumers. I would promote the value of employing consumers. People feel empowered by self-sufficiency, structure of work or volunteer activities and participating in something meaningful.

The other approaches all have to do with connecting individuals to meaningful recovery, establishing community roots, reclaiming lives, art, wellness education; I would help create independent mental health brokerage options for people, in addition to offering WRAP or Person Directed Planning and start a dragonboat team! And, so much more……

2. Does the traditional mode of mental health treatment (clinics, clinicians, psychiatrists and chemicals) promote mental health recovery?

Not currently. In fact the system does not seem to have a way for recipients to “leave” or “graduate” services. I recently was in Brattleboro, Vermont. I was able to visit the Brattleboro Retreat. It is the defacto State Hospital, since there was a severe flood permanently closing the Vermont State Hospital this fall. As you walk in. there is a sign that reads: “how can we help you get home”.  I am struck by this notion… a system that implicitly states their goal is to get you the hell outta there. That is the right message. Helping people reclaim their lives, return to meaningful community ties and normalize their circumstances to be able to know their life is valuable, and this does not define them.

3. Is there a place for psychiatric chemicals in mental health recovery?

Yes. Informed use. This includes an individual creating a holistic wellness plan to address temporary challenges with an equal plan to reduce or eliminate the need for the prescriptions in the future. Whatever a person chooses, the most important element is to be armed with a wellness action plan, good information and support. Oh- And a prescriber on the same page. An individual is always the best advisor to their own recovery process. This has to become the value of the entire “treatment” team.

4. Are there people with mental challenges so extreme they may never recover?

Not only is this deeply false idea but it’s a harmful one. As a consumer/survivor community we “hold-the-hope” for one another.

.. the day I claim this is true, I’ve lost my own hope, hope for others and it’s time for me to step down.

5. If someone is a danger to themselves is it acceptable to use force as a last resort to stop them?

Never. Ever. Amen.

Balancing a person’s rights with the community or staff safety has presented untold challenges to “the system”.  Trust me, I’ve been in the meetings where there is hand ringing and not a lot of understanding on permanent trauma these policies have inflicted on the community.

For example, seclusion & restraints was always a horrible idea. There are many alternatives, from sensory rooms, music to talk/resolution teams. The most important element for the person in “crisis” to know is that they are safe and are capable of self soothing. It’s so important for a person to have their dignity. It never made sense that we address aggression with even more aggression. It’s so demoralizing- for the person and the system. Empowerment Initiatives, Inc. agrees with SAMHSA: “experts have long understood that seclusion and restraint practices do not reduce trauma but exacerbate it”.  Oh, and efforts are being made at the top: http://www.samhsa.gov/samhsaNewsLetter/Volume_18_Number_6/EndSeclusionRestraint.aspx

But more is needed. That’s where we come in. The power of our stories, fighting for our rights, being unified in our hope.