The Right to Fail

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The right to fail: live as flawed people diagnosed with a mental illness.

 

In New York State, as in many other states in the United States, unless you are mandated to or in a forced treatment program, you can fail out of society and be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for rehabilitation. Commonly this is called Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT). People labeled V-SPMI (violently and persistently mentally ill) cycle around back into the system. The pattern should go from being a patient in the hospital to independent living. But sometimes, life takes its turns.

 

Some states operate differently and offer even fewer freedoms. Some states provide more privileges but less supportive services. The endorsement of the right to fail must be a national human right for public mental health care recipients.  Next to the modern mission by the New York Office of Mental Health and other states, mental health regulatory bodies profess Dignity, Hope, and Recovery. Reformers and activists must write to our politicians. Politicians must sign this into law and inscribe it with the right to fail.

 

People need to pay attention to the history of our mental health system. It should reflect this all-important pendulum. Some might even call it a continuum. It’s called “Dignity in Risk, or Risk of Harm.” By basic definition, “Dignity of risk” is the right to take chances when engaging in life exploration experiences and the right to fail in these activities. Meanwhile, “Risk of Harm” is an impending threat of a person or persons causing substantial physical injuries to oneself or others. Naturally, these expressions have been around for many years. And the debate still rages on in 2022. Since de-institutionalization, people aren’t sure about the future of people living with diagnosed mental health conditions living out in the community.

 

  • Is this person or that person discharged from a hospital and allowed to live independently in a community? 
  • Where does a person fall on this continuum of being more of a risk or stable? 
  • What is stable living? 
  • What is failure? 
  • How do clinicians determine who is stable?

 

Clinicians can do their best to assess and predict outcomes. Do professionals ever really know what other people are capable of doing? Clinicians assess for safety concerns and look at the complete clinical picture of a person before being released into the community. Depending on the precipitating event of the identified person, the length of stay in the hospital will be different. Under consideration is past violent ideation, homicidal or suicidal ideation, lethality, strengths, weaknesses, history, all of these considered? And, is this enough? Each individual makes their own decisions moving forward. I work with these folks as a therapist. I also have a mental health diagnosis, and I still wonder about the answer to this debate on Dignity and risk.

 

During my tenure of having mental health issues, I have done many unfathomable things. I still cannot express regret for many of the items. I have done in my past or live down. Since my diagnosis, I have also done wonderful, beautiful things in my lifetime and would never want to forget these memories. The light outshines the darkness every time my freedom is involved. People with mental health issues cannot ever give up this privilege.

 

There is risk in dignity. There is also Dignity in having choices and Dignity in failure.

I support the Right to Fail.

About the Author

J. Peters

J. Peters is the Editor-in-Chief of Mental Health Affairs.

Award-winning book author and Bold 10 Under ten award recipient J. Peters, LCSW. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Mental health therapist and disability rights advocate Mr. Peters fights for those without a voice in various care systems, such as the New York City Department of Social Services, the New York State Office of Mental Health, or the city's Department of Corrections.

Mr. Peter's battle with Schizophrenia began at New London University in his last semester of college. Discharged from Greater Liberty State Hospital Center in July 2008, Jacque's recovery was swift but not painless and indeed brutal after spending six months there.

He has published several journal articles on recovery and mental health and three books: University on Watch, Small Fingernails, and Wales High School. He is also a board member of the newspaper City Voices. Mr. Peters currently sits on the CAB committee (Consumer Advisory Board) for the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene in NYC and the Office of Mental Health (OMH) as a peer advocate.

Owner of Recovery Now in New York, a private psychotherapy practice, Mr. Peter's approach is rooted in a foundation of evidence-based practices (EBP). Jacques earned a master's degree in Social Work from Binghamton University and worked as a field instructor for master's and bachelor's level students in NYC.

He is blogging daily on his site mentalhealthaffairs.blog, Mr. Peters regularly writes articles relating to his lived experience with a mental health diagnosis.

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