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Mental Health Day on the Hill: Looking for a home, not just a bed

Some people came to give back, others came to push for change, and still others for both reasons.

Thursday saw 600 people descend on the State Capitol for Mental Health Day.
MinnPost photo by Sarah T. Williams

About 600 people — those with mental health diagnoses, those who advocate for them and those who love and support them — all descended on the State Capitol Thursday for the annual Mental Health Day on the Hill (now more than 20 years running).

The daylong event, organized by the more than 30 members of the Mental Health Legislative Network, started with a briefing on this year’s legislative priorities, which include:

  • Improving the state’s crisis response services by working with people to voluntarily engage in treatment, and allowing certified peer specialists to be a part of mobile crisis teams (H.F. 2472/S.F. 1864).
  • Developing online training to ensure that the state’s civil commitment statute is being applied consistently across the state (H.F. 2320/S.F. 1731).
  • Clarifying and strengthening the mental health certification for Adult Foster Care, including requiring the Department of Human Services to approve the training curriculum (H.F. 2169/S.F. 1865).

Other priorities include improving access to personal care services, restricting the use of seclusion and restraints in schools, minimizing jail time for people going through the Rule 20.01 (incompetency to stand trial) process, and renovating the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.

Participants peeled off to meet with their legislators and then wrapped up the day with a Rotunda rally. “A lot of people are recommending more beds,” Sue Abderholden, president of NAMI MN, told the crowd. “But a bed is not a home. A bed is where you spend some of your time, but not all of your time. We need more homes.”

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Here’s an introduction to just a few of the attendees, who talked about what brought them to the Hill, and what changes they hoped to see.

MinnPost photo by Sarah T. Williams
Sanni Brown-Adefope

Sanni Brown-Adefope:

I have a history of mental illness in my family — my mom was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. And the diagnosis pretty much led us to live in foster care. I usually talk about my foster-care story, because I’ve been fortunate with the people who were there to support me. But I never tell anybody about how I got into foster care, and I feel like I’m not telling the whole story. My mom has been asking me, “What about our story? We have a success story. Tell people that.” I feel like in order to help the mental health community, I have to tell my story, because it is a success story. … Fortunately, my mom was able to find treatment. And she’s high-functioning today. She loves cooking, and we can’t get her to sit down. I feel like I have to give back, I have to do something.

Christine Johnson:

I work in the field, I have experienced mental illness, and my son has been diagnosed with ADHD. So I am drawn to this group. I like to see change. I like to be part of change. [I hope] to help legislators understand that community support programs are helping people live normal lives. For myself, I’ve been hospitalized 70 times. … I basically was waiting to die. I got myself out of the hospital and have been living in my own place since 2000. I got my education, I’ve been able to adopt, I own a single-family home and I’m working full time. I was on disability for 21 years, and I’m not on disability anymore. Because of community support programs – people believing in me.

MinnPost photo by Sarah T. Williams
Christine Johnson

Cari Fisher and Charles Bugg:

MinnPost photo by Sarah T. Williams
Charles Bugg and Cari Fisher

Cari: I’m here today because mental illness personally affects my life. I’ve witnessed the tornado of events that affects my family, the people I love. It takes a lot of effort and energy to go through a crisis, to go in and out of hospitals. Being here and listening to the people in this great building is so amazing because this is where change happens. To find out who our legislators are, and to know that laws can change, that funding can happen, and to know that it’s our turn.

Charles: She’s my girlfriend, and she struggles, and I’m here to support her. I understand there were budget cuts, and now it’s time to refurbish the grants and what they need to better their lives, to get them back on track.

Donald Modeen:

The winter that we’ve gone through has left me very depressed. I’m looking for a change in the seasons. I hate to say that sometimes mental illness is based on environmental factors, but I believe there’s a little bit of truth to that. I came here with a group from Vail Place. I find that mental health has a lot to do with finding things that you enjoy. Your staff at these places [Vail Place], they’ll tell you to work. Believe it or not, after you work for a while — either mopping floors, or running the snack bar or doing meal sign-ups — you find out that you actually enjoy it and that it’s a lot of fun. So you’re not depressed being by yourself and not doing anything —you’re helping other people.

MinnPost photo by Sarah T. Williams
Donald Modeen