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A Declaration of Behavioral Health Rights and Actions

July 02, 2019

This Independence Day will mark the 243rd anniversary of our national Declaration of Independence. This monumental document was signed by 56 very courageous souls in Philadelphia on a torturous, hot summer day. Our declaration rings true across the centuries—everyone has inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; governments are instituted to secure these rights; and government should be organized to best effect safety and happiness. We stand in awe of these assertions down to this very July 4.

Just seven short years from now, we will celebrate the 250th anniversary of this exceptional, far-reaching event. From today’s perspective, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness represent an excellent framework for behavioral health in order to prepare for, celebrate, and move beyond this once-ever anniversary.

The need to do this is very great. Suicides and opioid deaths both are at epidemic levels. A record number of persons with behavioral health conditions are incarcerated in our county and city jails. The majority of persons with serious behavioral health conditions receive no care at all. Many things are at crisis levels as they were on July 4, 1776.

Time already is short, so we should start planning now.

Here are a few simple ideas that we might wish to consider.

First, we could produce our own Declaration on Behavioral Health Rights and Actions. We will need to address how well those with mental and substance use conditions have fared in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Our declaration could include statements on:

  • Life: Do those with behavioral health conditions have equity in length and quality of life?
  • Liberty: Do they have a full life in the community governed by self-determination?
  • Pursuit of Happiness: Do they enjoy happiness, with good personal well-being?

Our declaration then could conclude with a statement of common actions—the essential steps we will take to foster and secure these inalienable rights.

Second, we could fully empower our Declaration on Behavioral Health Rights and Actions through a universal opportunity for all to endorse and sign. This could reflect direct democracy in action—signatures by millions of people electronically, as opposed to just the 56 who signed the original Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.

Third, we could develop a foundational plan to detail the future operational steps necessary around each of the key actions identified in our declaration. These are the steps that will be necessary to bring our inalienable rights to reality—to address the crisis in behavioral healthcare. The philosophical framework for this plan should be based on person-centered care and its essential correlates—self-direction and self-determination—with full recognition of the essential roles of prevention and recovery.

So, I hope that I have more than whet your appetite to make our national 250th anniversary of independence a major turning-point event for behavioral health as well. A few moments reflection will assure you that we will not be alone in this effort.

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