COMING IN FROM THE MARGINS:
PEOPLE WITH AN EXPERIENCE OF MENTAL ILLNESS AND THEIR ALLIES WORK FOR CHANGE
ARANA PEARSON AND RUTH GERZON, 2001.
This conference presentation looks at our community development approach to social change.
We quickly built momentum in the Bay of Plenty using the strengths of hundreds of people to reduce stigma and discrimination.
Inclusion in a community is necessary, essential, and crucial, to mental health, yet people with an experience of mental illness are excluded from communities by both a high level of discrimination in communities, and the nature of mental health services.
The Aotearoa / New Zealand government has funded a national project to spearhead political and social actions to counter stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. Unlike traditional mental health services, this project is working with the strengths rather than perceived deficiencies of people with an experience of mental illness, raising awareness through supporting labelled people to be visible and be heard. In the Bay of Plenty a community development process has been adopted.
This has led to the formation of a community trust, the Serious Fun ’N Mind Trust. The objective of this trust is to support people with an experience of mental illness to network and develop skills and resources, workshops, art, music and street theatre; recruits community leaders to support the movement; and works with the media.
Discrimination is best tackled through people learning to live alongside one another. Both the project to counter stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and the mental health services need to employ people skilled in supporting people to develop their strengths and linking them to their communities of choice.
The ideas in this paper were presented in an interactive workshop format with dialogue, music, art and street theatre.