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Advocacy Unlimited - Recovery and advocacy education for people with mental health and/or addiction issuesAdvocacy Unlimited, Inc. - Comprehensive education in recovery and advocacy skills for people in recovery from mental health and/or addiction issues

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Put a Restraint on Restraints

The Hartford Courant's series, "Deadly Restraints," incited feelings of sadness and anger in many people. Unfortunately, neither emotion is foreign to those of us who have been diagnosed with a mental illness and who have been consumers of services provided by the mental health and social service systems. As advocates working with and on behalf of persons with psychiatric disabilities, we are continually reminded that those of us with disabilities remain especially vulnerable in a culture that devalues our worth and potential and relegates us to a class typically reserved for outcasts or villains. Our respective agencies are particularly sensitive to the fear, grief, and outrage that our people experience each time our rights are violated, our dignity is insulted, our safety is threatened, and our destinies are manipulated. The Courant's series clearly articulated the need for a system of care that springs from a culture of empathy and partnership rather than control and coercion.

The Courant's Mr. Altimari and Mr. Weiss very graphically and very accurately detailed the abuses and potential abuses that can occur in hospital and residential facilities that are allowed to operate in relative secrecy. With few regulations requiring facilities to report incidents of psychological trauma, physical injury, or death, some facilities remain unaccountable to advocates and the community-at-large. If the reported incidents are not enough to sicken or enrage us, then we must we consider the very real probability that the data is grossly under reported. While the deaths of 142 people over a ten-year period should elicit our collective outrage, we will have missed the point entirely if we, as a people, do not demand change. We have no choice but to demand a clear and swift response from the Governor, our legislators, our Congressional delegation, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) and the Department of Mental Retardation. We must demand change through thoughtful reform and a reconsideration of whether current restraints and seclusion practices are effective, let alone humane.

The journalists' reporting of the tragedies and traumas associated with some restraint and seclusion practices painted a grim picture indeed. Tragically, it reflected the anecdotal information that our staffers encounter on a regular basis. Most, if not all restraint and seclusion procedures are unjustifiably dangerous and damaging. The problems related to such procedures can be magnified by things such as poorly trained staff, non-standardized procedures, misuse or misapplication of restraints or seclusion, careless observation and monitoring practices, delayed or substandard emergency medical responses, and the emotional scarring of persons who must endure tremendous degradation and humiliation.

On behalf of Advocacy Unlimited, Inc., the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, and our entire constituency, we call on our elected and appointed officials to take action. Members of our Congressional delegation should convene hearings that will lead to legislation mandating a national, moratorium on mechanical restraint procedures. Statewide, our legislators should ensure that a community-based system of mental health care is adequately funded. Such a system should provide for a full range of supports and services for and by persons with disabilities. It should be based on an independent living model and a health care approach that stresses prevention. Fewer rather than more persons should end up in hospitals and/or residential treatment facilities.

The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Department of Mental Retardation must stipulate that there be independent investigations into all deaths and serious injuries sustained in public and private treatment facilities. Furthermore, the respective Commissioners must ensure the integrity of such reviews by appointing service consumers and their advocates to these review panels.

In closing, we urge you to take all actions necessary to ensure that future tragedies and traumas be prevented. And for those have not been, or will not be prevented, we demand that the full weight of the law and administrative regulation be applied. Certainly, the problem has been clearly defined and the public consciousness has been raised. There is no better time than now to define the future of safe, humane, compassionate, proactive, and therapeutic mental health care. A very large number of our constituents will be watching all of our efforts to this end.

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