TU: MH Rights Advocates Protest Psychiatric Profiling in Albany

NYAPRS Note: Yesterday's NYS mental hygiene budget hearing featured an historic silent demonstration of over 120 protestors who came to Albany to stand up against NYS legislation that tracks and criminalizes them. Organized by the Mental Health Empowerment Project, the demonstrators stood silently every time, displaying 'You're talking about me' when discriminatory comments or policies were mentioned and turning to display 'End Psychiatric Profiling' each time New York's gun law mental health reporting requirements were referenced. You can view the Times Union video of their presence at http://bcove.me/xiov7bs1 and read the stirring testimony MHEP Director Amy Colesante gave at the hearing and the group's new release below. Congratulations to all for filling up the hearing chamber to powerfully say: 'Nothing About Us Without Us!'

Disabilities, Mental Health Officials On Budget Hot Seat

by Rick Karlin Albany Times Union February 27, 2013

Avid gun owners aren't the only ones upset by the SAFE Act, which is expected to draw a crowd of protestors on Thursday. Also unhappy are mental health consumers who are upset at a provision in the law which bans assault weapons that calls for a registry of people who may be mentally unstable and who also may have guns.

Under the SAFE Act, mental health workers and other mandated people are supposed to notify authorities if an individual presents a potential danger to him or herself or others.

Mental health consumers fear this list, aside from possibly falling into the wrong hands, only feeds the stigma they live with and they also fear that it could deter people from seeking help in the first place. To register their concerns, the group, whose members were outfitted with t-shirts in typical Lobby Day style, stood silently each time the SAFE Act came up in budget hearings earlier today.

Most of the hearing, though, focused on the 6 percent budget cut<http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Jobs-at-risk-in-services-for-disabled-4311317.php>, which we reported on today, facing local non-profits and plans to reorganize and furthter de-institutionalize the state's Office of Mental Health.

The 6 percent cut is coming through the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities and lawmakers questioned Commissioner Courtney Burke about that, as well as offered some of their own predictions. "I'm very concerned that the 6 percent cut is going to take us back to the days of Willowbrook," said freshman Democratic Sen. Terry Gipson of the Hudson Valley.

Also questioned was Office of Mental Health Acting Commissioner Kristin Woodlock whose agency, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan, is looking to close an undetermined number of state-run psychiatric centers (there are about two dozen left).

Such closures would pretty much be decided by the OMH commissioner, according to another Cuomo budget proposal.

"I have concerns about putting that much power in a single person," said Assemblyman Tom O'Mara of Big Flats in the Southern Tier where there is such a center in Elmira.

http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/179570/disabilities-mental-health-officials-on-budget-hot-seat/

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Mental Hygiene Joint Budget Hearing Testimony February 27, 2013

My name is Amy Colesante. I am the Executive Director of Mental Health Empowerment Project, Inc. We are a statewide advocacy organization this is run for and by people with first hand, lived experience in the psychiatric system.

As a parent, I watched the recent massacre in Newtown and one's like it unfold and just like many of you, I cried and held my babies tighter that night. These are such tragedies and represent such a huge loss of life, it is hard not to react emotionally to them. As a person who has a psychiatric history, I witnessed the aftermath unfold. For all the life needlessly lost, the response from the government, media, gun advocates and gun control lobbyists is especially horrible to those of us who have been given a psychiatric diagnosis, particularly since these events bring untrue assumptions that we are more dangerous than the rest of the population. We are not.

Multiple research studies show that people with psychiatric histories are more likely to be a victim of a crime than a perpetrator. Politicians and mental health administrators make note of this and then ignore it by passing laws that target and track people with psychiatric histories as scapegoats for society's ills.

The outcome is that laws are created in response to fears about us that result in us having our civil, human and constitutional rights taken away. We are here today in protest of legislation such as The New York Safe Act, the expansion and extension of the highly controversial Kendra's Law, and public health law section 384b-d of the social services law that allows the removal of children from their parents simply because the parent has been given a psychiatric diagnosis.

The purpose of our presence here today is to bring attention to these harmful assumptions, stereotypes we endure and the acts of discrimination that follow which bring us into the center of a discussion that is happening about us, without us. Today we are here to let you know that it is not acceptable to spend tax payer dollars to promote and fund multiple acts of legislation which violate our civil, human and constitutional rights. The latest discriminatory action taken by the NYS Government involves the creation of a central data base designed to track people with a psychiatric diagnosis. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in four American adults were given a psychiatric diagnosis within the past year. Do you have friends or family members who have been given a psychiatric diagnosis? If you don't now, you will. Do you want them to be put into a data base for the rest of their lives and risk discrimination based on something they said in a moment of despair in the privacy of their therapist's office? Do you want to be potentially put into a database?

We are wearing t-shirts today that say on the front "You are talking about me" and on the back "stop psychiatric profiling." Psychiatric profiling is a movement to eliminate the scapegoating of society's ills by politicians, the media, gun control advocates and pro-gun lobbyists onto people who have been given a psychiatric diagnosis.

We are not dangerous and should not be the target of legislation that allows society to believe that we are. People need to realize that at any point, you or someone you love could be the one who gets a psychiatric diagnosis and loses their constitutional rights. We are here today to tell you to stop making laws based on emotion and start making them based on facts. We have jobs. We have children. We vote. We are you and research proves that we are not dangerous. What is dangerous is opening up the flood gates to the mass screening, diagnosis and tracking of New Yorkers - Americans - in the name of safety.

ADVOCATES STAND TO SAY YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT ME,

STOP PSYCHIATRIC PROFILING!

People from across New York State who have been given a psychiatric diagnosis Stand in Protest of funding for legislation that violates human rights at the Joint Legislative Public Hearing on 2013-2014 Executive Budget Proposal:

On Wednesday, February 27, 2013, people who have been given a psychiatric diagnosis will be taking a stand against New York State Legislation that tracks and criminalizes them.

These advocates will be wearing T-Shirts that say on the front, "You are talking about me" and on the back, "Stop psychiatric profiling" in protest of legislation such as the New York Safe Act; public health law Section 384b of the Social Services Law that removes children from their parents simply because they have been given a psychiatric diagnosis; and the expansion and extension of the highly controversial Kendra's Law.

Amy Colesante, Executive Director of Mental Health Empowerment Project, a statewide advocacy organization that is run for and by people with first hand, lived experience in the psychiatric system, states "Today, we Stand to let the New York Legislature know it is not acceptable to spend tax-payer dollars to promote and fund multiple acts of legislation which violate the civil, human, and constitutional rights of people who have been given a psychiatric diagnosis."

The latest discriminatory action taken by the NYS government involves the creation of a central data base designed to track people with a psychiatric diagnosis. Maura Kelley, Director of Mental Health Peer Connection, a consumer run program in Buffalo, New York states "Research findings can no longer be ignored. It is commonly cited that people with a psychiatric history are 14 times more likely to be a victims of crime than arrested for one (Brekke, 2001). In the United States and abroad, people are calling for action to stop psychiatric profiling (Walsh, et, al 2003). These efforts to scapegoat us are simply a veil of safety."

Stopping psychiatric profiling is a movement to eliminate the scapegoating of people who have been given a psychiatric diagnosis by politicians, media, gun control advocates and the pro-gun lobbyists.

Ellen Healion, Executive Director of Hands Across Long Island, a consumer-run agency in Long Island, states "people with a psychiatric label pose as much risk to the general public as everyone sitting on the floor of the Assembly or Senate. The bottom line is the fact that even considering a data base attacks civil liberties and rights. That this issue is even being discussed, whether publicly or behind closed doors is an atrocity."