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BH blogger buzz: Meet Steve Bell

November 25, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Steve Bell

Among the researched and reported articles and news items throughout the pages of Behavioral Healthcare magazine and Behavioral.net, behavioral health professionals have an opportunity to share their thoughts, opinions and expert advice through blogs. Each of our bloggers has a niche of the field that they tend to center their topics around – fundraising, facility design, leadership, technology, etc.

One of Behavioral Healthcare’s bloggers is Steve Bell, the co-founder and executive director of BrainStorm Career Services, a consumer-run nonprofit. BrainStorm provides psychosocial rehabilitation and vocational services in Colorado Springs. Steve’s blogs usually cover topics such as peer support and advocating for the rights, equality, and decreased stigma of individuals in recovery.

To get to know each of our bloggers a little better, we asked them to reflect on the following question:

“What was the most important/toughest personal or professional lesson you ever learned?  When and how, or from whom, did you learn it? And, how did that lesson change you or the way that you work or lead life?”  

Steve answered this question in a slightly different way—he directed us toward a “Letter to the Editor” that he wrote in response to an opinion piece in the Colorado newspaper, the Gazette. Although the piece by Loren Kramer (the author he is responding to) cannot be accessed online, we can get a sense through this letter of who Steve is and what he believes is right for society and especially for those struggling everyday with mental illnesses.

 

Dear Editor:

Loren Kramer had his shot at free speech. Now I want mine. People who have struggles due to a psychiatric disability do not wake up one day and make a conscious decision to experience the unspeakable sadness of depression or constantly hear voices that no one else can hear or stay up all night for days at a time, unable to quiet their minds and sleep because their thoughts are racing 90 miles an hour. Such symptoms are at times unbearable, and yet many of us so-called “crazies” manage to live very productive, normal lives. 

In the Viewpoint piece in the Gazette published on September 27th  the former Colorado Springs chief of police shares his thoughts about the gun control debate in light of the mass shooting at the Naval Shipyard in Washington D.C. and what he sees as the real issue between random, multiple victim homicides. Mr. Kramer concludes that these incidents take place because of “our obsession with excusing crazy people who demonstrate a pattern of bizarre behavior and anti-social conduct. The problem was created decades ago when our courts prohibited removing these crazies from our midst and opened the doors of mental institutions freeing them into our neighborhoods, workplaces and streets.”

This is hate speech based on fear, ignorance and bigotry toward those who live with a mental health condition. I personally do not believe anyone, whether or not they have a mental health label, should get a free pass if they commit a crime. They should be given a fair trial and then be incarcerated if they are convicted in a court of law. But to just arbitrarily suspect someone of being a potentially violent offender based on recent or past psychiatric treatment and then lock them up for evaluation and forced treatment is unjust and tramples on the Bill of Rights.

How many gun owners are possible, suspected terrorists plotting the overthrow of the government? Very, very few. How many persons who need mental health services and have utilized them are even remotely thinking about ways to carry out the next Columbine or Aurora mass murders?  Very, very few. Oh, and for the record, in Colorado we have a large and expensive place where non-violent offenders with mental health problems are “removed from our midst.” It's called the Department of Corrections.

In the final sentence of his letter Kramer writes; "Unless we change the debate to deal with the real problem the best we can hope for is that the next crazy decides to end their own life and not some innocent child or one of our family members." What an obscene and insensitive thing to write given the large number of grieving families in Colorado who’s loved one died by their own hand. I am one of those who grieve. My mother, Joyce Bell, quietly took her own life when she was 40 years old back in 1976.

--Steve Bell, mental health consumer activist

 

Besides serving as the co-founder and executive director of BrainStorm Career Services, Steve is a member of the Colorado Behavioral Health Planning and Advisory Council and a member of the United States Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (USPRA). He has also received certification as a psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner. Steve has been in recovery from a mood disorder for over 10 years and has been involved in grass roots community organizing for over 25 years.

Stay tuned for more “BH blogger buzz” pieces, and be sure to check out Steve Bell’s blog posts.

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Comments

“our obsession with excusing crazy people who demonstrate a pattern of bizarre behavior and anti-social conduct. The problem was created decades ago when our courts prohibited removing these crazies from our midst and opened the doors of mental institutions freeing them into our neighborhoods, workplaces and streets.”

I think a small detail was overlooked in this statement... You forgot the courts motivation for freeing all of us crazies... It had a body count and was compared to (with video accompaniment) to the likes of the Concentration Camps in full swing. The public wasn't horrified by the conditions... they were indignant at the comparison.

To clarify, as an active member of the "crazies". I have no interests in your guns. In fact, I demand my husband keep his locked up at all times. Why? Legally, I am not allowed a firearm, but that's never been a consideration. It is my belief that since I've never killed anything (ie hunting, farming) I lack the ability to fully understand the totality of results from the simple action of pulling a trigger.

I also think you fail to grasp the truth about our justice system. You see, American Criminal Law is about who we hate the most. To put this in perspective, criminals are afforded protections and rights by the mere virtue of their illegal activity. Forced commitment remains the only absolute way to rob a person of their civil rights. At least a criminal trial relies on evidence and fact. Civil commitment is my word about my possible future behaviors and a doctor's word about my possible future behaviors. The doctor hasn't been deemed crazy. Who do you think a court listens to?

You know, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, I was deeply saddened, but as violence is the topic of note, let me point out... Mass shootings are a rare and heinous event perpetrated by a select few, and I am going to pay for it. I suppose it would be something like me holding your responsible for all the deaths caused by psychiatric medications, forced restraints, eugenics, sterilization, lobotomies, and the horrific treatment of us crazies over the years. Since you have already established that my "excuse" is being a "crazy", what's yours?