Blue Sky Wellness Center was a refuge for me after my discharge from the psych 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. More so, 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 Behavioral Health Systems 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. Outside community gathering is now prohibited, at least without permission and a time-constraint from the guard, and 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 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, or 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 no longer represents the place that helped me with my wellness. It’s not the same as the one I wrote about and was published in the Prop. 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 the County of Fresno and Kingsview to do better: Put peers at the table and get back to promoting wellness, recovery, resiliency and promoting positive outcomes.
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 & Accountability Commision (MHSOAC) or Kingsview mission statement, and is a failure of Prop. 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, and unable to provide appropriate self-care. We are also 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 now and able to share my story.
Founder & Contributor | AmericanBadassAdvocates.org
This campaign can be followed online via #PeersAtTheTable
Eve Hinson is an Autistic activist, speaker, writer and artist. Also the founder of AmericanBadassAdvocates.org
She launched the site in April 2016 after an incredibly successful protest, #TheReal5150 campaign, against institutionalized stigma promoted in grocery stores by an energy drink.
Today she focuses on sharing her lived-experience with PTSD and Functional Neurological Disorder to law enforcement, first responders, and students. Eve 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.
Eve is a medicinal cannabis patient and advocate too.
In her previous life, she participated in the wave of technology that changed the world and loved it. It all began at fresnobee.com in 1996.
Contact | email@example.com