On Monday August 24, 2015, a historic moment happened in Washington when people living with mental health conditions from all over the nation, along with dozens of diverse organizations, gathered to raise public awareness for change. At the National Mall, leaders rallied hundreds to challenge the prejudice and fear they so often face, marching under the lime green banner of mental health awareness. From as far as California and upstate New York, they sang and talked and chanted "We Demand Dignity Now!"
As organized by the grassroots Destination Dignity Coalition, comprising dozens of advocacy and provider organizations, the Dignity Mental Health March seeks to elevate the conversation about mental health and social justice, while calling on Americans to demand change in the way our we thinks, talks about and resource community supports and services.
Dignity is every human's birthright, a value that cuts across all cultures and situations. All too often, though, those of us with mental health challenges experienced their dignity being undermined as a result stigma and discrimination, forceful, demeaning and negative treatment, by silencing and shame.
Those of us who live with these challenges, with symptoms and psychiatric disabilities, have reasons to legitimately fear talking opening up, or even reaching out for support in their most difficult moments. In a culture where discrimination in health, education and employment are common, and disparities in care funding pervasive, over 40,000 people trapped by isolation and despair die each year by suicide.
In our nation, mass criminalization, homelessness and unemployment of people with mental health conditions cannot be considered justifiable. Death due to treatable health issues over 20 years earlier than general population cannot be acceptable. A thousand suicide attempts a day should not be considered tolerable any longer.
By demanding dignity for mental health we are calling for an end to these injustices. We are calling for those that are impacted by mental illness, virtually every family in America, to join together and push a lime green wave of change forward. We are saying "enough" to a culture that ignores or mistreats rather than supporting, those facing their most difficult moments.
Recovery thrives when people are respected and supported. We can create a world where everyone affected by mental health conditions has the best chance possible to succeed and recover. Where we are viewed first as successful, important members of our communities, families and businesses. Where every one gets what they need for success where and when they want it.
Nearly every family in America is impacted by mental illness at some point. And while there are many things that we cannot change about our health systems, governments and society, every one can make a difference for our nation's health by joining us on the path to Destination Dignity.
Eduardo Vega is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, and Director of the Center for Dignity, Recovery and Empowerment, collaborating partners of the Destination Dignity Coalition. www.DestinationDignity.org