Posted on June 7, 2011
Kenneth J. Dudek
President, Fountain House
Two weeks ago, I attended a conference in Boston on the future of brain research. Organized by IMHRO’s Garen Staglin and former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), scientists and policy makers gathered to kick off the One Mind for Research initiative – a campaign that, among other things, seeks to generate funding for brain research at levels equal to that of heart or cancer research. Many of the speakers talked about the difficulties inherent in this research and how far behind our knowledge of brain disease is in comparison to other arenas.
So what was I, the working community guy, doing there?
A few years ago, Congressman Kennedy told me that the mental health community needed to speak with one voice. I’ve come to understand the wisdom of that statement, so now I make an effort to attend forums I wouldn’t have gone to in the past, in an attempt to understand the perspectives of other groups.
Conferees in Boston viewed themselves as a diverse gathering based on their individual disciplines, but, ultimately, they were all researchers. I couldn’t help thinking that the participants at a rehabilitation conference I attended recently would find their perspectives to be very limited. And I’m sure that the converse is true.
Can the mental health community really speak with one voice? I don’t think we can afford not to. In a place like Washington, D.C. and within a relatively new field, multiple voices allow for inaction. The cacophony results in fragmentation, and that fragmentation kills people with mental illness every day.
The Fountain House community has been as responsible as anyone for creating the confusion, but we’d like to see that change. Rather than defining the whole of mental health from our own narrow interests – be it brain research or vocational rehabilitation or family support groups– we need to listen to each other. In order for our efforts to succeed, we must find value in the work of others.