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October 1, 2007
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Mental healthcare consumers have become a strong constituency, advocating for their rights and prompting changes in behavioral healthcare services. But this wasn't always the case. When mental healthcare was delivered mostly in institutions, patients with severe mental illnesses had virtually no hope for productive lives in the community. They were not empowered to make their own care decisions and were subject to questionable “treatments.” Some people admitted to psychiatric hospitals were never allowed to leave, even in death. Tens of thousands died while patients at state hospitals and were buried on the grounds.

Today empowered mental healthcare consumers are remembering those that came before them by restoring these patient cemeteries, many of which have been abandoned, forgotten, and not properly maintained. Consumers also are playing an important role in building a national memorial to honor the patients buried at psychiatric hospitals across the nation, as Larry Fricks explains on page 12.

And who would have thought 50 years ago that mental healthcare consumers would become important players on the national scene. But that's now the case, with NAMI and Mental Health America serving as powerful lobbying groups on Capitol Hill. Consumers are even trying to attract the attention of presidential candidates; the National Coalition of Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Organizations is a cosponsor of a presidential debate scheduled to be in New Hampshire next month.

Yet as odd as it sounds, one area in which consumers need to make more progress is the behavioral healthcare workforce. Drs. Lori Ashcraft and William Anthony explain on page 10 why they believe many behavioral healthcare professionals hide their own mental illnesses from coworkers. They are not talking about mental health consumers who join the behavioral healthcare workforce to share their experiences with fellow consumers (i.e., “peers”). Instead, Lori and Bill are talking about employees “on the other side of the desk,” who they argue face stigma and shame even in behavioral healthcare environments. I urge you to read their article and let us know how you think this situation can be changed.