Valley Voices

Call to action – Fresno mental health center needs a check-up pronto

MCT

Blue Sky Wellness Center was a refuge for me after my discharge from the psychiatric ward for suicide compulsion in 2012. When becoming a member, I was treated with respect and assured of a stigma-free zone. The reassurance, support and community has saved my life multiple times.

Today, I still find support in the network of peers I met then, and many have become a part of my extended family. We’ve supported each other in our wellness journey, learned to share our stories via Each Mind Matters speaker training (2014) – and many of us have gone on to become certified as peer mentors, support specialists, educators and a few have even returned to the workforce full time.

Painfully, the culture and attitude of Blue Sky Wellness center has changed since my years of participation. Kingsview has disintegrated the peer-led recovery model to integrate a top-down management medical model. This has been done without the involvement of the center’s peer advisory council.

Peers are being informed that it’s the city of Fresno demanding these changes, something about them being out of compliance all these years, and now needing to conform.

These adjustments require an armed guard at the door for “our protection,” ticketing the homeless $400 for cart parking, and removing stability-supporting services such as showers, laundry and meals. Cameras have been installed inside and scan all activity.

There’s a term heard in the disability civil rights movement ‘Nothing About Us Without Us.’ The statement equally applies to those of us living with severe mental illness. This is a call to action for Fresno County and Kingsview to do better.

Eve Hinson, founder, AmericanBadassAdvocates.org

Outside community gathering is now prohibited, at least without permission and a time-constraint from the guard. Mandatory group participation is required or peers will be ejected. Rumors of civil rights violations during the intake process to become a member are being reported by peers as well.

It’s disheartening because these changes reinforce stigma, criminal perception and create a negative environment that incites discord and feelings of oppression. Initiating mandatory group attendance requirements contributes to the de-stabilization of the severely mentally ill population in the greater community.

The peer-support network in the community room is invaluable, and not everyone has the ability to attend a structured lesson, especially in the early days of wellness and recovery.

Also, the management needs to stop the gaslighting. The armed guard does not promote the safety and wellness of peers. In fact, it’s the opposite. Has it not been taken into consideration the danger posed by having a firearm attached to a stigmatized person who hasn’t had crisis-intervention training, de-escalation education and lacks the empathy of lived-experience or for a loved one with mental illness?

The facility is not focused on keeping my peers safe – no, it seems it has become a part of the mentally-ill-go-straight-to-jail pipeline. It has been observed recently a peer was placed in zip-tie handcuffs by the guard and held for law enforcement.

It was noted that expected de-escalation techniques weren’t used and the staff did not provide support or intervention with their training and experience. Ever think about the very plausible situation of what happens to my peers if the guard panics? I do, and it terrifies me.

Blue Sky was a haven for those of us who had burned out our support network of loved ones and friends. Many of us find ourselves isolated, abused, underfed ... or homeless. And I say us, because once that filthy, greasy-haired person talking incoherently and sitting on a bus bench unaware of the time or even the year, was me.

Eve Hinson, founder, AmericanBadassAdvocates.org

Blue Sky no longer represents the place that helped me with my wellness. It’s not the same as the one I wrote and was published in the Proposition 63 Success Story, Volume 2, dedicated to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and the hundreds of thousands served.

Yes, there are challenges and neighborhood complaints that need to be addressed, but not at the exclusion of peer involvement. We belong in vision and leadership roles. Our lived experience and perception must help guide the solutions to our care and support.

There’s a term heard in the disability civil rights movement “Nothing About Us Without Us.” The statement equally applies to those of us living with severe mental illness. This is a call to action for Fresno County and Kingsview to do better: Put peers at the table, and get back to promoting wellness, recovery, resiliency and promoting positive outcomes and stop excluding peer involvement.

It’s not enough to be told that you advocate for us. The correctional-facility ambiance and medical model approach is not an appropriate response. It doesn’t honor the spirit of Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission mission statement and is a failure of Proposition 63 funds.

Blue Sky was a haven for those of us who had burned out our support network of loved ones and friends. Many of us find ourselves isolated, abused, underfed, unable to provide appropriate self-care, and under-housed or homeless. And I say us, because once that filthy, greasy-haired person talking incoherently and sitting on a bus bench unaware of the time or even the year, was me.

If it wasn’t for the peer-involved model at Blue Sky Wellness Center available then, I wouldn’t be here to be able to share my story today.

Eve Hinson of Fresno is an autistic activist, speaker, writer and artist. She is the founder of AmericanBadassAdvocates.org. She shares her experience with post-traumatic stress disorder and Functional Neurological Disorder in training sessions for first responders and students.

Hinson has been trained by Each Mind Matters and NAMI on advocacy and how to help break the stigma of living with a severe mental illness.

She’s also a current board member for Resources for Independence Central Valley, a past board member of NAMI Fresno, and Area 8 Board California State Council on Developmental Disabilities. Connect with her at eve@americanbadassadvocates.org.

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