Posted on : 28-03-2015 | By : Da Blazah | In : Mental Health
Righting the wrongs of the mental health system is what earned Wesley Alcorn, who is president of the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Consumer Council, the NAMI Wolf Award for 1998. The NAMI Wolf Awards were instituted six years ago to recognize those citizens who spoke up and challenged the mental healthcare system’s status quo.
Alcorn was in the audience when Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, director of the Stanley Research Institute, first explained the concept of the NAMI Wolf Awards. Named after the aggressive animal, says Torrey, it is awarded to a NAMI member who has been particularly effective and outspoken in trying to improve services for people with serious mental illness. It goes to one who has “raised hell,” says Torrey, rather than maintain a sheeplike demeanor.
That description befits Alcorn. In 1991, at the age of 32, he first entered the mental health system with a serious depression and panic disorder and was hospitalized at a public health facility for 18 days. He went on Social Security to get Medicaid coverage for his illness and was then released to day treatment at Montana House, a Medicaid-funded community treatment center. He describes the experience as like being in a dog kennel.
Despite an $8 million annual budget, which he had to fight to see, he says, the place could not provide services as simple as a glass of milk; a lack of screen doors allowed patients to entertain themselves by counting fly kills, Alcorn quips. Alcorn pursued the problems of Montana House in the media, eventually getting the state to investigate the situation. The place went out of business, and the contract was given to another service provider. “It was a worst case scenario,” says Alcorn. “Disastrous. People died.”
Montana in 1991, says Alcorn, was a bad place and time to become mentally ill. The state had just deinstitutionalized its mentally ill, the last state in the Union to do so, and many patients were “dumped” into such