Returning from the inaugural Destination Dignity March for Mental Health and Change, I sat on the flight from Washington D.C. to Fort Lauderdale reflecting back to historic marches in Washington and iconic speeches affirming the ideals of our democracy which still resonate to this day. The Dignity March for Mental Health on the national mall led by mental health consumer advocates, many successful professionals and leaders in their own right came to expound on the injustices which persist to this day.
They spoke their truth to power about the myriad of public health, social, and economic barriers which have led to despair, incarceration, and collateral consequences which impact metal health consumers and their families every day. The inaugural Destination Dignity March may not have risen to the heights of legendary historic events, such as Dr. King's "I Have a Dream Speech." Yet, the significance and importance of this event cannot be overlooked.
Many of those effected by the long and deplorable history of social stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness in this nation journeyed to Washington D.C. to deliver a message. A tragic and urgent truth that despite the fact that mental health conditions impact almost every American at some time in their lives and require some kind of mental health care and intervention, the national conscience relating to recovery and wellness has yet to be raised.
Further, that mental health crisis can be prevented and avoided if mental health funding would be prioritized. Leaders who are willing to embrace recovery and forge an evidenced based national mental health agenda where individuals with mental illnesses and their families are not forced to experience crisis and unspeakable trauma in their efforts to secure needed community mental health treatment for their loved ones. A byproduct of centuries of stigma and prejudice which has kept this nation stuck is a social justice struggle which must be resolved.
At the pre-march rally, speakers such as Dr. Daniel Fisher, member of The President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health and an international mental health consumer advocate, remarked "We are the evidence -- all of us." Others rallied for inclusion, jobs, and basic human rights. I spoke about the injustice of the criminalization of persons with serious mental illness and the fact that our nation's prisons have are housing 10 times more patients than all state hospitals in the U.S.
Yet others recounted mental health professionals who told them they should never consider going to college, getting married, or having a family. A story told by a successful professional, marred with grown children. For those not in attendance, The Dignity March assembled hundreds of mental health consumer activists from across the nation. They made the journey to raise their voices for others unable to attend or to speak for themselves. They spoke of failed governmental policies dating back to the groundbreaking legislation be President John F. Kennedy in his passage of The Community Mental Health Act of 1963 and the lingering effects of discrimination and social stigma.
The Dignity March was an extraordinary and historic event. As noted by the organizers, just a beginning. A desperately needed emerging social justice movement to message and communicate basic human truths; which includes the fact that every individual effected by mental health care conditions can recover and live their dreams. Moreover, that persons with mental illness are entitled to and must be afforded equal rights and dignity under the law.
On the way flight home from the march, I listened to one of the greatest speeches ever delivered on justice and compassion. The speech Robert F. Kennedy gave in Indianapolis the night Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated -- and I reveled in the feeling of justice.