This letter was published in the Block Island Times in June 2015.
In the past few years, the US Department of Health and Human Services has paid more attention to mental health issues, which have been the poor underfunded relation for far too long, even though statistics suggest that as many as one in five of us will be impacted by mental illness in our lives. They are recommending that communities have conversations around this issue. A national effort is being promoted though the department, through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA] and the National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI]. NAMI Block Island, formerly the Mental Health Task Force, is responding to the Community Conversations idea. We like the core principle: To bring two-way conversations about mental health into the community so that the various responses to behavioral health issues can be addressed in ways that complement existing local activities, are better coordinated, consistent, and in the best interests of all.
In our unique community here, we know well that many things have happened, are happening, and that there are separated and overlapping aims as different groups strive to do what they do as well as possible and without getting in each others’ way, too much. And of course we are often the same people in different groups trying to remember which hat we are wearing today. NAMI BI members are arranging to meet with individuals from various island organizations and groups. But, we, like you, have had to think how to be sensible about demands on our time, so we are starting slowly, with leaders or directors of groups, at the points where mental health impact is known to occur. Through fall, we intend to widen the circles, hear from everyone, not just chiefs and chairpersons, notice the overlaps and take in and share the different pictures that others possess. Our intention is to reach ‘everybody’ by this time next year, but we hope you will feel free to reach out and contact us without waiting if you have something to say about the health or otherwise of mental health in Block Island.
I am writing this letter because it matters to me, and also because I feel there is no way to get this right, whatever right is, but we can almost certainly do better when we all work together and have listened to each other. The first experience (that I know of) that put me in contact with mental illness was when I was 20-something, a young teacher of a child who literally ate the palms of his hands, every day. I had not a clue what to do, reported to the head-teacher and the school doctor who may or may not have known what to do either, but at the parents’ evening it became obvious that the really ill person in this was the boy’s father, and there was no way I knew how to respond, nor was there any group to turn to for help. I felt totally on my own, helpless.
I have sometimes wished I had never begun to look for better responses, and enter into the various kinds of learning and training that followed over the years, but mostly I am incredibly glad. Why? Because, I didn’t know what I would gain. I am not afraid of mental illness, or of physical, though disturbed and saddened by either. I am not a doctor or psychiatrist or therapist. However, I do know that when others near me in professional and in personal life have shown signs of illness or become ill, I have been able to hang in and help them find help. Also I have known that often good intentions have been frustrated by – guess what – separation and overlap and right hands not knowing what lefts are up to. So I do like this idea of Community Conversations about the health of mental health here. I hope that those who join in will also like it. [See more and various links on our new website http://blockislandmentalhealth.org.]
Yours sincerely, Elspeth Crawford