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Navigating the System(s)

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If there’s one thing that I have observed in my work as an advocate, it is that in order to be effective, you need to have some working knowledge of the system in which you find yourself working. Whether it be something as seemingly small and intimate as your family or as complex and immense as the United States of America, my experience shows me that to best effect the change, I have to know the problem I am dealing with is situated within a larger context, and how that larger context plays a role in this particular problem I am trying to solve.

Since moving to Connecticut, I’ve been somewhat of a fish out of water. I’ve been fortunate to have an extraordinarily supportive partner (and his family) and employer which has helped make the transition to my new home that much more manageable. But even still, relocating has forced me to once again learn about a new community (from the local to state level) in order to learn how things work in my new town (and the state of Connecticut in general) and how that impacts me as an individual – especially as an advocate.

Immediately prior to relocating, I was living in Massachusetts, however was so pre-occupied with work (and with trying to move out on my own again) that I did not have much time or energy to focus on my advocacy work or community engagement (I still stayed involved but to a lesser degree than I would’ve liked). Previous to that I’d been living in Rhode Island, and had the benefit of living in Providence which was both the capitol and hub of our nation’s smallest state, which allowed me to learn a lot about that system in a relatively short number of time.

As mental health advocates it is essential that we have a working knowledge of the various social supports and networks in the area that we are living and working, especially if our work directly deals with people living with mental illness and other mental health challenges. Here in Connecticut there are various resources which can be used to provide support to those seeking it. The CT Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) website has links and resources to various partner agencies across the state. They also highlight the various initiatives that they may be working on at any given time.

With the ongoing state budget crisis, it is evermore important that we know of a variety of resources and not just those provided by the state. The Connecticut chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI CT) is another excellent source of information and support for those who are living with mental illness, advocating for themselves and/or others, as well as for those who are just looking to learn more.

Another great resource is the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc., (CLRP). CLRP “is a statewide non-profit agency which provides legal services to low income individuals with mental health conditions, who reside in hospitals or the community, on matters related to their treatment, recovery, and civil rights.” While they provide legal services, according to their website there are certain legal issues they don’t assist with such as bankruptcy/debt collections, divorce/custody/termination of parental rights, public benefits (Medicaid, SNAP, etc), criminal defense, personal injury or wills/estates.

For those who are working within the non-profit sector, there is also the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance. The Alliance provides resources and training to nonprofits in the state, in addition to serving as a forum for advocacy organizations to collaborate and strategize together.

These are just a few of the many resources CT has available to those working, volunteering or accessing mental health and social services in Connecticut. By better understanding the larger network of decision makers and stakeholders, this allows us as mental health advocates to better advocate for ourselves and our communities. As much as I wish I could save the world and fix all the problems on my own, when I give myself a reality check, I realize I can’t do it alone! We need to work together to achieve the positive changes we are seeking.

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