Saturday, June 30, 2018

Suicide and 'Safety': This week in Intentional Peer Support

INTENTIONAL PEER SUPPORT PRACTICE SERIES SATURDAYS WEEKLY 5-6:30 pm Eastern FREE  ONLINE Beginners Welcome      This weeks topic: SUICIDE and ‘SAFETY’ (June 30, 2018)  Join by computer: Join by phone:  +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656 Enter Meeting ID: 119 362 879 International callers:   About IPS:  Intentional peer support (IPS) is a way of thinking about and being in purposeful relationships. In IPS, we use our relationships to look at things from new angles. We develop a better awareness of personal and relational patterns. We support and challenge each other as we try new things. IPS is different from traditional service relationships because it doesn’t ,start with the assumption of “a problem.” Instead, we learn to listen for how each of us has made sense of our experiences. Together, we create new ways of seeing, thinking, and doing. At the end of the day, it is really about building stronger, healthier communities.  More info (& study guide) at:  Left Graphic: Cover of IPS Workbook [picture of a woman wearing a hoodie with images of a tree, a house and a hand.  She is holding a smaller version of herself in her arms.  Written in cursive on the image is ‘What is forgotten is who we are.  Right Graphic:  IPS Promo Poster [picture of a man in a wheelchair, a woman sitting on the grass listening to him, and another leaning against a tree.  Above them on the branches of the tree reads: “From helping to learning together, individual to relationship, fear to hope and possibility” In the horizon below that “Connection/ Worldview / Mutuality/ Moving Towards”]

IPS Practice Series.  FREE ONLINE -- Beginners Welcome!

Topic for Sat. 7/21/18:  Suicide and Power

  1. What is the relationship between suicide and power?
  2. How, if at all, does power (having it, not having it, losing it, feeling used, abused, put down or ignored by others who have it) affect my feelings about living or my will to live?  
  3. How is power different depending on whether I am a 'helper' or a 'helpee'?
  4. Is power different when I 'feel suicidal' compared to when I don't?
  5. What implications might that have for our relationship if one of us starts talking about wanting to die...?

Weekly on Saturdays 5-6:30 EDT 

Join by computer:
Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656 (Meeting ID: 119 362 879)
International callers:

Study Guide

The following study guide has been personalized and adapted with permission from Intentional Peer Support: An Alternative Approach by Shery Mead.  To purchase the full manual (book, kindle, audiobook), see  To learn more about Intentional Peer Support and available trainings see

A Deeper Look at 'Safety'

When I was a patient in the mental health system, I heard the language of safety a lot! Was I safe, was I going to be safe, would I contract for safety, etc. etc...?  Through these questions, safety came to mean that I was simply agreeing not to do anything to hurt myself or someone else.

But what did that leave me with?

Reflection questions

  • What has it meant to you when others have asked if you’re 'safe'? 
  • When you’ve asked others if they’re safe?

Frankly, the more safety questions I got, the less I felt reliant on my own abilities to take care of myself. So instead of feeling safe in the world, I felt like a time bomb that could go off at any time.

It also left my clinical relationships with a huge power discrepancy:  If I told the truth -- "I feel like hurting myself" -- the practitioner would feel obliged to take precautions.  Perhaps they were legitimately concerned I would follow through.  Or, maybe they acted more from a need to protect their job, their license or their organization.  Either way, once the magic words got spoken, they mostly had the power and I mostly didn't.

Option two was to lie.  If I denied my true experience, I could keep my power.  But denying my reality - and keeping secrets in important relationships - also have their costs.

This was abundantly true for me.  I felt miserably alone at the most vulnerable times of my life.  I came away feeling like there was no one on the planet who I could really trust.  I was out of my league and I knew it. I desperately wanted human support and counsel.  I desperately wanted to get to the root of my true feelings and to be able to uncover any options I had.  Yet, here I was trying to make a good decision - perhaps the most important decision of my life - without knowing a single soul I could trust to be truly honest with.

In retrospect, I don't think there is much that is LESS SAFE for me as a human being in that frame of mind.  In fact, I can only think of one thing that's less safe from my perspective: 
EVEN MORE UNSAFE = to feel coerced or pressured by others who don't understand my unbearable suffering into making a bad decision makes it even worse.  
Unfortunately, that was often where I found myself in times like these, given the mainstream practice of reporting, detaining and drugging those of us who acknowledge the depth of our distress and despair.   

Re-Thinking Safety

The painful contradictions noted above have led to a lot of reflecting on what safety actually means to me.  Here are two bottom lines I've come to:

  1. Real safety doesn’t mean talking to someone with a reporting obligation.
  2. Real safety doesn't mean making a safety contracts or promises to stay out of harms way.

Reflection questions

  • What does real safety mean to you?
  • What makes you feel safe (or safer)? 

Real safety - for me - is about creating culturally respectful, mutually responsible, trusting, trustworthy relationships. It happens in relationships where we don’t judge or make assumptions about each other.  It happens when someone trusts and believes in me even when they’re uncomfortable.  It happens when I'm free to share my deepest truth and you take time to reflect on what I've said. You make the effort and sincerely try to get to the heart and soul of what I'm attempting to get across to you.

When you make that kind of effort and actually 'get' me, everything starts to change.  You've proven to me that you can put your needs aside long enough to hear me out when it really matters.  So I begin to feel ok about letting you into my world and loosening my grip on the urgency of now.

You've also proven to me that you understand the territory.  You've treated me like I have value and like my experiences do too.  So I begin to get interested in what you think and might possibly know.  I get curious about what I might find out if I stick with you.  I feel bouyed up enough to risk the uncertain and the unknown.  After all, you're a pleasant companion and the spent time with you feels bearable. That alone gives me hope that there might be something on the other side to make the journey worth hanging in for.

This buys us time.  The time we need to take risks, learn from them, explore new possibilities, and learn some more.  All the while behind the scenes, subtly, incrementally, without me knowing it, a revolutionary change in my assumptions is taking place.  The way I think about how this world and how it all operates (me, others, the planet) will never be the same.

Reflection questions

  • What happens when you are with someone you trust and feel safe with? 
  • How does actually feeling safe change things?  (Can you do things when you feel safe that you can't do when you don't?)
  • How does being with someone you feel safe with change things? (Have you ever noticed yourself being able to do something with a person you trust that you couldn't do without them...?)

This is what we call building relational safety.  As you can see, it is very different from the liability management practices that are oriented toward legal safety.   It requires both of us to take risks and be vulnerable, instead of just one of us unilaterally protecting our interests. This is what we call shared risk.

How safe the relationship is for both of us depends on...  both of us.  It only works if both of us are willing to learn to share our power and take responsibility to do our part.  This is what we call mutual responsibility.

Relational safety, shared risk and mutual responsibility are foundation principles in creating relationships that work for both people.  You will learn a lot about them - and practice them a lot - in this kind of peer support.

Reflection questions

  • What happens to 'safety' for you if... 
    • I am continually assessing you for 'risk'...?
    • I can unilaterally decide to 'keep you safe'...?
    • I expect you to do all the risking...?
    • I am the authority on what risks you can take...?
Practicing Relational Safety

It's time to put the rubber to the road and practice creating this new kind of safety in our relationships with each other.  Here are some strategies to get us started:

1. Initiate proactive conversations

Whenever possible, it's best to practice these principles proactively (by thinking ahead) rather than reactively (oops...). The idea of proactive conversations is to get our concerns on the table early on, before either of us is in discomfort or crisis.  That gives us the space to look at ourselves from a comfortable distance.  Then we can reflect honestly together about:

  1. The kinds of stuff that often comes up for us (in relationships or in our lives); and 
  2. What we'd like to do differently this time.  

For example, if wanting to die is a common issue for either of us, we can talk about it ahead of time.

  • We can explore what will help the relationship feel safe for both of us if those kinds of feelings come up again.  
  • We can both acknowledge (honestly, out loud) the extent of our “bottom lines.”  
  • We talk about how we each are likely to react when we feel untrusting or disconnected. 
  • We can figure out together what we will do, should we get to that edge. 
By proactively exploring potentially sensitive issues like these, we pave the way for negotiating our relationship when future challenges arise.

2. Talk (and talk and talk) about power

Power and safety are totally intertwined.  I, for one, feel safe and optimistic when I have power.  I also feel vulnerable (and worried, angry, confused, sad or overwhelmed) when I don't.  I suspect it works that way for lots of us, though I don't hear this talked about very much.

Being aware of the impact of power is critical for this kind of peer support.  Relationships are a virtual land mine of power dynamics.  There's a zillion ways to feel more or less powerful than someone else.  Taking risks, sharing responsibility, being vulnerable, creating safety - these things are all about power.

As you can see, the fact of power is inescapable in peer support.  But power itself is not a problem.  What matters is how we choose to use it.

Reflection Questions

  • Do I use the power I have to build respect, equality and participation in relationships?
  • When am I tempted to use power to advance my own self-interest?
  • What does that do to my relationships?

Can you begin to see how our use of power affects the quality of our relationships...?  That's why, in this kind of peer support, we talk about power a lot:  What it’s like to have it, use it, lose it, abuse it and try to share or balance it.

We tend to talk about power imbalances again and again because, well... we're human.  So these issues come up again and again.

3. Practicing mutual responsibility

Most of us who have seriously considered giving up on life have experienced the kinds of assessments, safety contracts, and evaluations that I talked about above.  This affects our 'mental health relationships' and how many of us learn to think about them.  

Reflection questions

  • Think about mainstream mental health relationships (therapy, psychiatry, case management): 
    • Who defines 'risk'/ 'safety'? 
    • Who or what is considered 'risky'/ 'safe'? 
    • Who decides what risks are acceptable?  Required?  For whom?  
  • What happens in a relationship when you feel like someone is always assessing your safety?
  • What assumptions do you make about who holds the power or control?
As a mental health client, it went unsaid that the clinical professionals were the one's who defined the realm of risk.  They told me the risks I was supposed to take - e.g., share honestly even if I don't trust them; do what they tell me to even when it doesn't make sense to me.  They also were the ones to decide whether my thoughts or actions were 'risky', how 'risky' they were, and when additional management (treatment) or surveillance (prevention) was required.

As noted above, the peer support we are learning here makes very different assumptions.  It assumes both us of have things to share and things to learn.  It assumes that risk is a part of living and that we will both take risks and create them.  It assumes we both have power -- as well as a mixed record when it comes to the choice of taking it for ourselves, giving it up to someone else, or negotiating and sharing it with others.

Consequently, the most important thing we learn to do with each other is put our cards on the table and talk honestly about our needs and concerns.  Some suggestions for doing when either of us struggles with wanting to die include:
  • Talking about our own reactivity to these kinds of situations, and then mutually negotiating a new response.
  • Building a relational ‘crisis’ plan (e.g., a WRAP plan that we create together for our relationship).
  • Talk about hot buttons for both of us and how we’ll deal with them.

4. Reflective Feedback

A huge challenge for me in building relational safety is when I think your needs, views or reality conflicts with mine.  Reflective feedback is a way for me to voice my own reality without defining yours or taking away your power.  The process is fairly straightforward:

Say what I see 

This is just simply owning up to the thoughts going on in my head about a situation.  They may be true for you too, or they may not be.  The point is that they are real for me, so I own them as my thoughts.  Then I take the risk of saying something like this:
I'm having a really hard time with they way I'm experiencing the energy between you and me.  The story I'm telling myself is that you think I'm going to kill myself so you're watching me like a hawk.


Say what I feel

Here is where I own up to the effect that my way of seeing is having on me.
I'm finding myself shutting down and hiding from you.  I'm also spending all kinds of time in my head telling you off and arguing with you about why I think you should act differently.  This isn't how I want to be.  It's bothering me a lot.


Say what I need

Here is where I say what I'd like to be different.
 I'd like to get out of my head.  I'd like to see you as an ally and on my side.  I'd like to be able to believe that you trust and respect me.  Or at least I'd like to figure out how we can relate in a way that feels more equal.   
Do you have some time to talk about it?  Would you be willing to tell me how you see things? Do you see it the same as I do or differently...?


These are the kinds of conversations that allow both people to take risks and grow. These are the kinds of conversations that can lead to fundamentally different ways of thinking about help.

Practice Exercise

Practice having a relational safety conversation.  Two people can role play a conversation or everyone can take turns jumping in with new lines.  Notice the responses that make you feel more or less safe. Discuss this as a group at the end.     

Relational safety in real time

Sometimes, we don’t have these conversations in advance.  Or suddenly, we find ourselves in the thick of it anyway.  During these times we’ll need to negotiate on the fly.  A couple of the skills here include:

  • Talking honestly: What does it feel like for each of us? Are we scared, frustrated, confused, angry, etc? 
  • Self-reflection:  Where is my reaction coming from?  Life and death danger? Break with routine protocol? Difference of opinion?  Unfamiliar territory?  Added workload? Not my preferred was of operating?  Past experiences?  Gut feeling...? 
  • Go back to the relational WRAP and follow what was agreed to.

Debriefing After the Fact

After we’ve come through a difficult situation and we’re on the other side, redefining safety is still important. We both probably have some feelings about what happened.  We maybe even created a little mistrust and now need to re-establish what’s going to work for both of us.

Some useful skills here might be:

  • Re-define together what safety and shared-responsibility means for us.
  • Talk about how it felt for both of us and what’s happened with our feelings since.
  • Figure out what’s going to help both of us regain trust.
  • Revisit / create a relational WRAP…

Summing up

  1. Have you noticed some ways that this kind of peer support different from other kinds of ‘help’ you might be familiar with?
  2. What differences do you see?   


Sat. 6/30/18:  Suicide and 'Safety'

  • Is 'safety' about legalities or relationships?  
  • Do risk assessments and safety contracts make us less likely to attempt suicide - or can they actually backfire and increase the risk...?
  • What can we do instead...?

Sat. 7/7/18:  Supporting others who want to die

  • How do our own needs affect how we support others?
  • What assumptions might we make about supporting others based on our own needs or experience?
  • What are the gifts and limitations of such assumptions?

Sat. 7/14/18:  Practicing relational safety

  • What makes a relationship feel safe (trusting/ trustworthy) to me?
  • What kinds of things seem to come up that can get in the way of for me (stuck points, patterns, bad luck streak, etc.)?
  • How have I tried to cope or manage that?
  • What (if anything) would I like to hold myself accountable try differently for next time?
  • What (if anything) have I been able to do to make a relationship better rather than worse when things started taking a turn for the worse...?

Friday, June 22, 2018

Working with Self-Injury: This week in Intentional Peer Support

Join our IPS Practice Series.  FREE ONLINE -- Beginners Welcome!
Weekly on Saturdays 5-6:30 EDT 

Topic for 6/23/18:  Working with Self-Injury

Join by computer:
Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656 (Meeting ID: 119 362 879)
International callers:

Practice Session Study Guide

The following study guide has been personalized and adapted with permission from Intentional Peer Support: An Alternative Approach by Shery Mead.  To purchase the full manual (book, kindle, audiobook), see  To learn more about Intentional Peer Support and available trainings see

Self-Injury as a response to trauma/ abuse

There are many reasons that people self-injure.  Here, we’ll talk about it from a trauma framework.
Many of us grow up in families or communities where violence or abuse is normalized. Trauma (particularly abuse) deeply affects everything about one’s life. From relationships, to the way we make sense out of things, to what emotions mean, all of this is influenced by ‘how we know what we know.’ Having our instincts, meaning, and intuition shaped in these ways shapes how we interpret things.

Reflection question

What do people do when they can’t speak about the violence (let alone have language for it), and when everyone’s telling them that they caused it? 

Well, here’s an explanation that makes sense to me:  I pretty much feel like a time bomb ready to explode – my body, my whole being. Releasing that – and getting rid of the discomfort - becomes absolutely essential  to my sense of safety. So I cut, or hurt myself in other ways, to release some of the pressure.

Reflection Question

Think about a time when you had tons of very strong feelings but weren’t in a place where you could talk about them, or even acknowledge them.
  • What did it feel like? 
  • What happened later?

Seeing the problem differently

How do we think about self-injury in terms of peer support?

Redefining self-injury

One option is to redefine self-injury.  Maybe it is not a disorder, an illness, a bad habit, or something ‘crazy’ I do.  What if, given what I’ve lived through, self-injury is a coping strategy or survival skill that I developed…?

Reflection questions

  • Do you have any ‘bad habits’?  (Examples: eat junk food, stay up too late at night, use drugs or alcohol, exercise too much or too little…)
  • Are any of them harmful to your health or well-being?  
  • What are some reasons you ‘self-injure’ in these ways?  
  • In what ways do these ‘harmful’ behaviors ‘help’ you cope or survive…?

Possible explanations:
  • Cope with discomfort or uncertainty
  • Manage, express or release feelings
  • Change my mood
  • Give me energy
  • Help me stay present and show up for my life

An advantage of redefining ‘self-injury’ as a tool or coping skill is that it gets me past self-blame and out of feeling crazy or irrational.  A limitation is that this view point doesn’t give me much reason to change.  If I keep self-injuring, I may hurt my body and (probably) confuse or scare others.  This generally doesn’t lead to the personal or relational outcomes that I want.

So what’s the alternative?

Re-defining the Problem

A second option is to look even deeper.  Here I start from scratch and question all my assumptions.  The idea is to look at the problem from a fresh vantage point and see if this leads me to any new learning.

I start my new inquiry by asking myself a powerful question:

What really is the problem here?  

This question is powerful because it goes beyond what I’ve been told the problem is by others.  It also goes beyond what my family, therapists, community or culture thinks is the problem.  Instead, it asks me to search my own heart and my own truth and ask myself, deeply:
What really is the main problem here, for me…?

Most people assume that self-injury is the problem. Because of this assumption, their reactions go something like this:
  • “You need to stop the self-injury and talk about your feelings.” (not awful)
  • “Are you safe? Will you sign a safety contract?” (getting worse)
  • “How are you going to stop this behavior?” (whose need is this?)
  • “You’re just doing this to get attention!” (the worst of all)

But what if we make a different assumption?

What if, instead, we see the self-injury as an attempt at a solution – and the real problem as being the trauma, abuse or something else that happens?

If I we think about it this way, our inquiry might go something like this:
  • “What does cutting (other self-injury) mean for me?”
  • “What is the cutting trying to get out?”
  • “When I try to put into words what this has been like for me, what do I say?”
  • “I wonder what the cutting is trying to say?”

As you can see, very different conversations!

In the first example, we assume my self-injury is bad or irrational.  So the conversation we have is all about how to get me to stop doing it.

In the second example, we see my ‘self-injury’ as a meaningful response.  Because of this, we are free to wonder about it together.  Here, we focus on what I have experienced, why self-injury makes sense to me, and ‘how I came to know what I know’ about life that makes self-injury useful for me.

As you can see, what we talk about is very different, depending on the assumptions we make and the questions we ask.

Creating relational safety

The next task is building in help that goes both ways and works for both people.  In this kind of peer support, both of us share the risks and responsibilities of creating a relationship that is trusting enough to withstand discomfort, uncertainty and differing points of view.

In other words, ‘safety’ is not just about me as the ‘cutter’ (i.e., the person with the identified problem).  It also includes you!  The process of making the relationship safe and trustworthy for both of us is called creating relational safety.

Reflection questions

What are some of the things you might say (or ask for) to begin to build relational safety…
  1. ...if you are someone who self-injures?
  2. ...if you care about someone who self-injures?

Ok, now go back and take a look at your answers:
  • Are you making self-injury the problem to be solved? 
  • Are you trying to just control the situation? 
  • Are you falling into assessment and evaluation?

Role Play Scenario

Someone you know shows you a deep gash on their leg.  They tell you they were in a really hard place last night and cutting helped them to get out of it.  You’re glad they feel better, but seeing the gash is bringing up really strong feelings for you.
How might you try to make the conversation feel safer for both of you…?
Sample response:
 “It sounds like you’re saying something really powerful! I really want to understand it, but I have to own that it’s (the self injury) difficult to witness from my perspective. Given that we have two different views, is there a way we can communicate so that I can stay in the conversation with you?” 

Going Deeper with Mutual Responsibility

Where might the conversation go from here?

In this kind of peer support, our main focus is on what is good for our relationship.  If it’s not working for both of us, then it’s not working.  That’s what we call mutual responsibility.

With respect to mutual responsibility, the question is whether self-injury is impacting our relationship (and if so, how…?).

Self-injury becomes an issue when it brings up feelings or concerns for either of us.  For example, I might be afraid of how you’ll respond and feel like I have to hide my self-injury from you.  Or you might be afraid that I really want to kill myself or that I’m going to get a bad infection...

The hope is to get both of our needs on the table – and honestly own them as our own needs.  After that, we can look for ways to approach our concerns that work for both of us.

Reflection questions (for both of us) 

  1. Is self-injury is our main problem?  
  2. Is what happened in the past our main problem?
  3. Is something else, beyond either of those, our main problem?
  4. Just as important, what, for each of us, would be the solution?
  5. What important needs is self-injury meeting for either of us right now?
  6. What important needs would stopping self-injury meet for either of us right now?
  7. What would have to change (in our lives or relationship) for the concern around self-injury to go away?

Summing up

  1. Have you noticed some ways that this kind of peer support different from other kinds of ‘help’ you might be familiar with?
  2. What differences do you see?   

Monday, June 18, 2018


A call to all who stand and wait:  38th Annual BASTILLE DAYS VIGIL/ CELEBRATION Week of Peaceful Assembly, Sharing, Learning and Action  (Special Focus on Children’s Issues)  From: 12:01 AM on Sat. July 14th To:  Midnight, Fri. July 20, 2018  Hutchings Psychiatric Center 620 Madison Street Syracuse, NY  “They also serve who only stand and wait” – John Milton  JOIN US:  Come for a moment a minute an hour - all week.  There is room, space, and a place in this human rights movement for everyone.  Celebrate the human spirit.  Break the silence about psychiatric oppression.  Disable the Label.  Find or create your niche.  Your people need you.  ABOUT THE VIGIL  The vigil will be held by permit on the grounds of Hutchings Psychiatric Center, 620 Madison Street, in Syracuse, NY.  The  Annual Meeting for Members of The Alliance will be held on Sunday, July 15 at 12 noon. All events and meetings are open to the public.  • Food-free, smoke free and scent-sensitive.   • Teach-ins, round table deakers, memorials, music, dance, drumming art, poetry, readings • Shelter, nourishment and shared facilities will be provided to those who participate as needed.  In 1980, Alliance members recognized the parallels between the storming of the Bastille (a mammoth prison fortress that served as a symbol of government hypocrisy, corruption and arbitrary power in the French revolution) and the psychiatric system.  We claimed this as our day to storm the institutional walls and break down the barriers created by discriminatory labeling. Bastille Day offers opportunity for solidarity, advocacy, comaraderie, networking, authentic peer support, dignity, recognition of personhood, healing and a forum for vital issues. There is room, space, and a place in this human rights movement for everyone.  More info Call The Alliance George Ebert​) @ 315-947-5888  ABOUT THE ALLIANCE:  The Alliance – established in 1972 – is a self help, mutual support, and human rights advocacy organization of, by, and for people labeled as “mentally ill”.  tax deductible contributions are welcomed.
38th Annual Bastille Day Vigil/ Celebration 2018


FROM JULY 14 – JULY 20, 2018

Syracuse, New York – June 18, 2018 (9:00 AM)

As midnight breaks to International Bastille Day (July 14), The Alliance will commence a week-long vigil to call attention to maltreatment in the name of “mental health”.  The vigil will be held by permit on the grounds of Hutchings Psychiatric Center, 620 Madison Street, in Syracuse, NY and run from 12:01 AM EDT on Saturday July 14 to Midnight EDT on Friday, July 20, 2018.   The Annual Meeting for Members of The Alliance will be held on Sunday, July 15 at 12 noon.  All events and meetings are open to the public and, technology permitting, will be broadcast online.

About the Vigil

The vigil this year marks the 38th Annual Bastille Day Demonstration to celebrate the human spirit and break the silence about psychiatric oppression.  It harkens back to the French Revolution when ordinary Parisians stormed the Bastille (a mammoth prison fortress that served as a symbol of government hypocrisy, corruption and arbitrary power).  In 1980, Alliance members recognized the parallels to the psychiatric system.  We claimed this as our day to storm the institutional walls and break down the barriers created by discriminatory labeling.   Bastille Day offers an opportunity for solidarity, advocacy, comaraderie, networking, authentic peer support, dignity, recognition of personhood, healing and a forum for vital issues.

Some participants will be fasting and praying for the end of medical and pharmaceutical tyranny.  This call to action hopes to draw public attention to industry practices that market, promote, push and often force invasive dehumanizing, disabling, and potentially deadly drugs and procedures in the name of “health” and “care”.  While everyone is vulnerable, the industry especially targets and feeds on people who are poor, powerless, institutionalized, imprisoned, unemployed, elderly, women, children or sexual, racial or ethnic minorities.

In respect to people who are fasting and praying, the vigil will be food-free, smoke-free and scent-sensitive.  Teach-ins, round table discussions, guest speakers, memorials, music, dance, drumming, healing arts and multiple forms of creative expression (song, poetry, costumes, posters) are encouraged.  Proposals for pre-scheduled activities are welcome.  Nourishment, shelter and shared facilities will be provided to people who participate on an as-needed basis.

Join us for a moment, a minute, a day -- all week.  Find or create your own niche.  Be involved with vital issues concerning young people – mental health screenings, discrimination, prejudice, stigma, culture, pharmaceuticals, aversive “therapies”, shock treatments, restraints, seclusion, removal from schools and communities, forced adoption, foster care and institutional warehousing.  Families, children, young people and adults who have experienced psychiatric treatment are invited to attend and give voice to their experience.  There is room, space and a place for everyone in this human rights movement.  Visit the vigil site or call The Alliance at 315-947-5888 for more information.  Humankind needs what you came here to offer.

Why Children?

Children who are labeled “mentally ill” in New York State, nationwide and worldwide face egregious harm.  In addition to issues listed above, lifelong impacts include the trauma of separation from friends and family, the physical and mental anguish occasioned by the drugs and procedures themselves, being deprived of customary developmental opportunities, having to explain gaps in life experience, rampant discrimination, and being robbed of access to one’s own feelings, memories, ideas, intuition and sense of self as a direct result of “treatment”. Many people who have been subjected to psychiatric intervention later describe such “help” as torture.

Most families who are referred for "mental health" or "behavioral health" services are convinced or compelled to undergo invasive assessment and accept psychiatric labeling and “recommended treatment”, including pharmaceuticals and “safety plans”.  When children are do not respond “appropriately”, parents are often pressured to “consent” to aggressive interventions like institutional confinement, seclusion, restraint, electric shock and/or electroconvulsive treatment.  The damage to family relationships is often irreparable. 

Why We Are Here

“These kids deserve love, kindness and care.  They deserve access and adaptions that enable them to participate in community events and activities of their choosing”, says one event organizer, Sarah Knutson, a former therapist and attorney.  “Natural supports like these take time, interest and getting to know a child deeply and well.  They also require relationships that are ongoing and real in children’s real lives”.

“It is not something the healthcare industry is willing to do.  They’d rather use power and control.  That’s what gets them the quick ‘evidence-based’ results their profit depends on”, says George Ebert, a long-time activist. “The problem is what is done to the human spirit. It’s something you pay for for a life time”, says Ebert.  He should know.  Ebert has been active in The Alliance since 1978.  Says Ebert: “We are determined.  Our demands for human rights for all people will not be compromised”.

About The Alliance

The Alliance – established in 1972 – is a self-help, mutual support, and human rights advocacy organization of, by, and for people labeled as “mentally ill”.  The Alliance was incorporated in 1982 as a not-for-profit organization.  Any type of support or contribution is appreciated and will be used to the best of our cooperative effort.  The Alliance can be contacted at 1-315-947-5888.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Calling on Hearts Instead of Hotlines: Options for people who care about people

A couple days ago a friend of mine called the National Suicide Hotline.  He was having a hard day and needed his distress to be heard.  He barely got started talking before the operator interrupted him.  It was the standard suicide assessment:
  • Are you suicidal?
  • Do you have a plan?
  • Do you have the means?
  • Have you set a date? 
Frankly, this is why I would never refer someone I loved to a suicide hotline.  If I had any doubt about killing myself before calling, getting asked impersonal, pro forma questions like these on the worst day of my life would pretty much seal the deal.  Yes, not all hotlines and hotline operators are like this, but enough of them are that I, personally, wouldn't risk it.

So what's the solution....?  After all, this crisis is real.  The pain is real.  The despair is real.  The deaths are real.  Tons and tons of Americans - as well as others worldwide - feel hopeless, worthless, disconnected - as if we have nothing of value to offer and our lives have only become burdens to those we love.

This really is life and death.  So none of us can afford to stick our heads in the sand and pretend anymore:
It isn't me. It isn't someone I love.  It isn't happening. . .
At the same time, the helplessness and confusion about what to do about it is also real.

And that's exactly why peer survivors and peer-developed modalities can be so helpful.  Many, many of us have been there.  Many, many of us know what it is like.  Many, many of us are still alive to talk about it.  We know what we tried, what worked for us and what didn't.  We know what ways of relating gave us hope and helped us to continue on.

Just as important - we know what not to do - what devastated us, wasted precious resources or made life altogether unbearable.

As a result of these experiences, we've developed countless approaches for navigating our own distress and that of our friends and families.

Get Connected

Here's what we offer at Peerly Human (

  • Wednesdays, 8:30-10 pm EDT, Deadly Serious: Talking Openly About Suicide 
  • Saturdays, 5-6:30 pm EDT, Intentional Peer Support Practice Series (beginner's welcome!)
Join by computer:

Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656  (Meeting ID: 119 362 879)

International callers:

1. Come as a human being
2. Come as you (& only you)
3. No pros, no cops, no 911

We Welcome:

~Your lived experience ~ Your distress ~Your pain ~Your needs   ~Your values  ~Your ideas & insights about what would work for you

Leave Behind:

~ Professional roles, reporting obligations and liability concerns
~ Political, social or organizational agendas
~ Opinions about the experiences of others or what is best for them

Video, voice and text are all options.  Call participants are welcome to come and go.  If you come late, please enter quietly and respect the discussion that is going on.

Other online group support options:  

Hearing Voices Network,

Mutual aid for voices, visions or extreme or unusual experiences
  • Mondays 7-8:30 EDT on Zoom
  • Thursdays 9-10:30 EDT on Zoom
Contact for call-in info

Emotions Anonymous,

Twelve Step peer support for emotional extremes

Spiritual Emergence Anonymous,

Twelve Step approach to spiritual emergency
  • Sundays, 8 pm EDT on Zoom
  • Mondays, 1 pm EDT on Zoom

Support Groups Central,

Support group options (some online) for mood, anxiety, voices and substances, among other things

Other Options

The big picture

1. Peer respites (spaces offering safe respite)

2. Peer support centers

  • Directory of Statewide Peer Organizations,
  • Examples of what can be done:

3. Alternatives to Suicide

4. Support lines staffed with people who care and want to listen

5. Intentional Peer Support,

6. Emotional CPR,

7. Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP),

WRAP plans can be developed specifically for issues like wanting to die.  WRAP plans also support identification of life-promoting, capacity-restoring activities like art, exercise, creativity, writing, social interaction, nutritious eating, meaningful vocation, relaxation, meditation, spiritual development, body work, massage, yoga, dance, etc.

8. Support for veterans 

U.S. vets are dying by suicide almost every hour on the hour every day of every year

9. Support to withdraw from psychiatric drugs

10. Support for creativity and resilience

Better Days International,
Discussions, collaborations, workshops between experts by experience.

Icarus Project,
Navigating the space between brilliance and madness
  • Publications:
 Poetry for Personal Power,
What helps you navigate adversity?

11. Support for voices, visions and extreme or unusual experiences

12.  Support for human needs and human rights

Other Resources 

Alternatives to Drugs, Shock & Psychosurgery (yes, they still do that!)

Open Dialogue:

Power Threat Meaning Framework

Trauma-Informed Care

Do you know of other helpful resources that respect personhood and treat us as people first...?  Please share!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

How Our Families Can Change the World

I post a lot of stuff about my honest experience of living. I do that to find others who share similar experiences, needs and values. I also do that in case others are out there alone and struggling and think they are the only ones. 

At the same time, there's a lot of risk in this.  Among other things, this world being what it is, I sometimes worry that my family might bear the brunt of it. For that reason, I'm incredibly grateful to my family for supporting me, my work and my sharing so openly. That's a rare gift in this world that values keeping up appearances more than genuineness, sincerity and an honest search to find and share the truth of your life as you see it. 

I want to honor here how much my family has given me and taught me about the meaning of love. This includes hanging in there through really hard times of confusion and misunderstanding. It includes continuing to reach out despite feeling frustrated or frightened. It includes trying to understand a viewpoint that makes absolutely no sense at all to you and possibly even threatens things you care about a lot - simply because it matters to someone you love and are desperately trying not to lose. My family has offered all these things to me over the years - and continues to. 

For all of that, I am deeply grateful. The gift is priceless and beyond measure. I wish it for everyone. To me, it is a beautiful vision of what it means to be the kind of 'human family' that, with time and persistence, can change the world.