This past weekend, mental health professionals from around the country gathered to celebrate the innovative programs we developed and the subsequent benefits to the lives of the people we serve, people with severe and persistent mental illness. Patty Duke, who has bipolar disorder, spoke at the event. We were filled with admiration and appreciation towards her for lending us her time and her voice.
Something unexpected happened when she spoke. She mirrored that admiration and appreciation back to us, the professional helpers. What she shared only indirectly referred to her own experience. Her message to us was, “This isn’t about me. It’s about you.” Her genuine warmth and gratitude was humbling. Her commitment was not to merely sharing her story or using her influence to raise dollars for mental health. What I saw was her commitment to improving the lives of people with mental illness, and respect for those of us who support that goal.
That kind of respect is hard to come by. The stigma that affects our clients trickles over to us mental health workers. Compare state funding and salaries for education vs. state funding and salaries for mental health and you will see what I mean.
She said “I believe each one of us in this room was made exactly how God intended.”
Go back and read that again. Yes, I mean it. I’ll wait.
What an empowering declaration. As a person with a physical disability, and one who is dedicated to helping people with mental illness, it reaches to my core. I pray that the truth of Patty Duke’s statement will soon be reflected in the reality of reintegration, community, and opportunities for all people struggling to find acceptance and meaning in their lives.