Friday, October 16, 2015

Recovering Humanity in Mental In Mental Health Policy.

With public violence happening somewhere nearly every day, it's natural to feel scared and concerned.  It's also great to give serious thought and consideration to the issues that scare us.  It would be hard to dispute that things are out of control at the public level.  There is more and more rage being expressed more often and more extremely.

The temptation in these circumstances react.  To go back to 'the basics'  - what we have learned to think of as 'tried and true.'  Stress is high, patience is low.  With this balance, we don't care that much how it is done.  Mostly we just want it to get done.  We say to ourselves, "Somebody really needs to get with it and fix this problem."

Usually this means telling people we trust to 'take control.'  It's pretty natural to want someone 'up there' to make it happen.  Not only is it the stuff religions are made of, it's the stuff of empires as well.  God knows, in the wake tragedies like Oregon et al., we could use a bit of that empirely feeling now.

Unfortunately, however, doing what we've always done is not likely to fix the problem.  And, doing more of the wrong thing is likely to make it worse.

When you get right down to it, the core questions are moral and existential.  They turn on what you believe is the real nature of human nature.  They also turn on what you believe turns people violent, including what you think makes people 'sick' enough to do horrible things.

In these trying times, the Human Rights Paradigm has much to offer us.  It offers a cohesive theory theory of violence.  It also suggests why many other pressing social issues, like 'mental illness', 'addiction', 'crime' and distress, substance use, homelessness, poverty, racism, have become as entrenched as they are.

Just as important, and perhaps even more, the Human Rights Paradigm offers a workable path to the other side.  The basic principles are elegant and unassuming.  In a few minutes, you can get a basic idea of where you are going.  This won't begin to scratch the surface.  But, it's enough to get oriented and make a start on a journey.

Not unlike the perspectives of Buddhism and Eastern Religion, the human rights paradigm posits that our problems, essentially, stem from ignorance. People aren't aware of rights - or don't grasp how important they are - to a civil, just society.

This results in judgment lapses. Not just in some of us, but practically everywhere. As individuals, families, schools, workplaces and communities, we have ignored the needs of some and favored those of others. We got scared, felt bad, wanted something - and a lot. The next thing you know we were intentionally using someone else - or our power - to get our own needs met. Not just a few of us, but pretty much all around.

The thing that made it even worse is we couldn't stop the cycle. If someone stepped on us, or shorted us, we didn't understand how to respond in a way that advanced the rights of all - and not just our own interests. Because of that, our reactions to injustice or inconsideration tended to make things worse instead of better all around.  That there would be both winners and losers - and a battle of wills/ resources that produced them - was pretty much guaranteed all around.

The human rights paradigms challenges this way of thinking.  It says we can free ourselves from this cycle. The key lies in:

  • knowing about rights;
  • understanding their value; and
  • developing still in using them to work for both (all) people.
Once we're aware of this is possible -- and that it matters human rights - and see how they matter - we start to treat each other differently. This helps us to avoid causing the kinds of distress that lead to breakdown, overwhelm and reactivity. It also creates more access all around to the resources that every one needs to live and feel well.

When issues do arise, we're more careful about our responses. We rely on human rights principles - instead of raw self-interest - to navigate delicate terrain. This helps us relate in ways that make things better instead of worse. With consistency and persistence, the vicious cycle of escalation almost always slows to a crawl.

Beginning to use this paradigm is a whole lot simpler than you think. The entire Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides a pretty good orientation - and it's only 4 pages long. Better yet, the important principles are summarized in the preamble - and a few key articles (Art. 1, . All, in all, less than a page of reading can get you up and running.

Human Rights Principles for Psycho-Social - and Socio-cultural - Well-Being

A lot of how we treat each other depends on how we see each other. And a lot of how we see each other depends on what we believe about human nature.

The human rights paradigm is far from neutral on this topic. It has very clear opinions about the nature of human nature. The good news is that the concepts are fairly universal. As a practical matter, human 'rights' don't become 'rights' until a lot of people from every country of the world see them as important. So there's a good deal of face validity to the conclusions that are reached.

The following are key:

1. Human family

Under the UDHR, this is our birthright. We are all members of a human family. No matter what we do, we can never lose this. No matter who we are, we must strive to live up to this. The quality of the lives we create with each other depends on this principle. We are members of a human family and should treat each other that way.

2. Inherent, equal dignity

Again this is something we are born with. We have the same dignity as anyone else. No one has the right to take ours away.

When you think about this long enough, it eventually becomes clear that the human rights paradigm sees human nature from a strengths based perspective.

Inherent dignity means that that everyone of us have worth. Worth means we don't come to the table empty handed. None of us, ever. There is always something to value if people our willing to look.

The fact that dignity is a right thus implies an obligation. If everyone is capable of offering something of value, then we have a duty to look. WE don't just get to write people off - not for a moment - and certainly not for life. Our obligation is to seek and find something of value in everyone we meet.

3. Rights

Rights in the modern world can get pretty tricky. In our dog eat dog world, they have become, largely, symbols of self-interest. "You can't [walk your dog here, say that word, play your radio, take my firearms, etc.], I KNOW MY RIGHTS.'

Rights in the human rights sense, however, go both ways. What's good for the gander is good for the goose. This has a lot to do with that the mental health system terms 'boundaries.'

In mental health and elsewhere, the function of boundaries/ rights is two-fold. They both (2) keep out and (2) keep in.

In keeping out, rights/ boundaries say to each of us: 'Your freedom to dominate ends where my personhood begins." (And vice versa.)

In keeping in, rights/ boundaries challenge everyone to ask: "How can we support each other’s access to the resources that all of us need to live, feel and be well?"

4. Reason

In the human rights paradigm, everyone is born with the capacity for reason. What does this mean?

Reason means that we can learn from the consequences of our actions. We have the ability to appreciate cause and effect and make sense of what we experience.

Reason also implies something very important. When people act in certain ways, we do this for a reason. It might seems strange on the surface, but there is a reason underneath.

This counsels us to judge less and question more. Even the most baffling or hurtful experiences might have a cause that could explain what happened and create understanding.

This brings us to conscience.

5. Conscience

Conscience overlaps a lot with what some people call motivation. On a basic level, conscience is about our capacity to care. Things (called values) matter to us. We care about some values (our priorities) more than others. We express our values through the choices we make. We evaluate our choices based on the results they get us. (Now we're back to reason)

Conscience is what makes us more than robots. It's about the values we live for, the results we want, and the subjective experiences we hope to achieve. Thus, how things affect us - and how we affect others - matters to us. In fact, it makes all the difference in the world.

6. Reason-conscience interaction.

If we put them together, the principles of reason and conscience have a lot to teach us about ourselves and each other. Reason asks us to look for why something makes sense. Conscience helps us see things in terms of meaningful (values-based) choices.

Viewed through this bifocal lens, every thought, feeling and action provides a clue for understanding human experience.

Per conscience: Some part of someone cared to produce it. Otherwise it wouldn't exist.

Per reason: The question is why?

Per both in tandem:

  • What kind of effect were we hoping for?
  • How did that particular outcome fit with our values?
  • Why was that value preferred over others?
  • What life experiences shaped those preferences?
  • What conclusions were drawn at that time and why?
  • Do those conclusions still hold true?
  • Are there impacts we didn't foresee then that matter now?
  • Are there new options now that could be considered?
  • With everything out on the table, does this still seem like our best choice?
  • If so, how will that impact the choices of others, including relationships we care about sustaining?

Get Ready for Blast Off

On the surface, these are simple concepts. But if you unpack them, they hold a world of potential. The implications are, truly, vast and revolutionary.

With these simple principles we can make sense of the entire realm of human experience. We can ge to the causes and conditions of our concerns. We can understand why we do what we do. We can right our relationships, heal old wounds, and stop new ones from forming.

Equally important, none of this stuff costs us a nickel. The most important stuff we can offer each other doesn't either.

Better yet:

  • No profession can license this.
  • No corporation can patent, bottle or sell this.
  • No Government can withdraw our funding.
  • There is no higher law.
  • There is no better law either.
  • We can't afford to ignore it.
  • We won't be happy until we live it.
  • It exists if we create it.
  • We can get there if we honestly try to.

Welcome to the human family.
There is no other.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Anatomy of "Othering": How Human Rights Neglect Creates Social "Others"

Missing human rights can cause a lot of distress. Think about what it’s like to be treated unfairly, go hungry, be thirsty, have nowhere safe to sleep at night or no meaningful way to make a living. Think about what it’s like to be disrespected, hurt, called names, beaten up, pushed around, held somewhere you don’t want to be, or forced to do something you think is bad for you.

These kinds of things are highly distressing for most of us. When human rights are violated or insecure, nobody does well. We don’t have what we need to live and feel well. Our survival is at risk in some important way – physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially… We may even be literally fighting for our lives.

Our normal response when our rights feel threatened is anxiety and concern. If nothing changes, this can grow into full-blown mental distress. A lot of time this is what people are talking about when they say “I have an anxiety disorder” or “I’m depressed.”

Intense, prolonged mental distress can lead to even more extreme states. We can end up totally disconnected from ourselves, others and the communities we live in. We can stop feeling like a part of things. We can stop feeling human. We can even stop feeling like living or being alive.

We may also stop caring how our actions affect others. We may look for anything we can that deadens the pain. We may become so physically or emotionally reactive that we lose our capacity to think or be aware.

Once these things get set in motion, they may stay that way for a very long time. We may get called “suicidal”, “borderline”, “addict”, “chronic”, “unmotivated”, “help-seeking”, “anti-social” - or even “psychotic”, “psychopathic”, “delusional” or “schizophrenic.”

Seeing Ourselves Differently

If that happens to us, it is important to look beyond the labels. We need to remember that the root cause is not our “mental illness.” It is not our “addict nature.” We are not 'inappropriate', 'impulsive' or 'manipulative.'

These surface appearances are merely effects. We can predict they will happen when human beings are overwhelmed by pain and have limited options for how they can cope.

To see the real root cause, then, we have to look deeper. Once we get beneath the surface there are things we start to see:

Something we needed was missing, disrespected, or threatened. There was no one to help us find our way. While some people may have tried, they didn't really understand. Their help wasn't all that helpful. Things got worse instead of better.

In the final analysis, we were on our own and continuing to fall. Eventually, we were in so deep that we didn’t know if we’d ever get out. True, every so often a passerby might come along and poke their nose in our hole. But, as soon as they saw how low we'd dropped, they’d turn up their nose and high-tail it on their way.

This kind of disconnection – both from the things we needed and from other people -- undermined our confidence in life itself. Neither the Universe nor those in it felt the least bit welcoming or worthy of trust.

This insult to our humanity was the real root cause.

Where to go from here?

If this has happened to you, you are not alone. It's happened to far too many of us.

But that's hardly the end of our story. Now that we can see where we've been, we can begin to see where we are going. We have a life to live, and we can decide to make it count.

One life, one vote. Each of us, no exceptions. Let's vote for a better world. Let's recover our humanity.

Our birthright is human family. It's time to stake our claim.

Human Rights ARE Mental Health

It's not just that human rights are important in mental health. They are mental health! People talk as if these are different concepts. But in practice, principle and ultimate impact, these concepts are one and the same.
Sarah Knutson, Organizer, Wellness & Recovery Human Rights Campaign. 

Most people have heard about the need for mental health recovery. Yet, very few have considered the need for ‘human rights recovery.’ In truth, you can't separate them.

All too often, wellness and recovery are seen as individual matters: A private problem develops. The 'person of concern' is expected to address it. It is their job to make progress and stop imposing their 'stuff' on unwilling others.

The human rights paradigm challenges this idea. It argues that mental health, fundamentally, is a shared responsibility. When respect for human rights is lacking, people don't have what they need to feel or live well. We treat each other poorly and relationships suffer. The resulting dynamics damage the quality of life for everyone. 

In these circumstances, the first person to break down is not weak. They are a warning to the rest of us. 'Pay attention! Something isn't working. Fix it before more people get hurt!'

The human rights paradigm was articulated in 1948 to steer us on a better course. It arose in the wake of Nazi Germany, with a global commitment to ‘never again.’ Everyone recognized that this was a tall order. If we wanted world peace, we would need to change how we were treating each other. We would have to learn how to relate in ways that led to well being, good will and collaboration - instead of exclusion, distress and retaliation. 

The human rights paradigm is not just for nations. - It's for all of us. People from around the world got together and agreed: There are just some things that human beings do not do well without!
What they wrote became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  (UDHR).   Here is a summary of what they said: 
As human beings we have a lot of things in common. We all long for respect and dignity. We all want to belong and be seen as valued members of the human family. We all are capable of developing our reason and conscience. We all need safety and security - and not just on a material level: Our mental, moral, vocational, creative, social, and political needs also require protection. 
The UDHR is a recipe - not just for world peace - but for mental and behavioral health. Without these things, there is no wellness or well being. There also is no support for recovery - or any reason to work at it. 

In other words:
Human rights = mental health. 
No rights, no recovery. 
Well-being leads to well beings.