Poetry at Mental Health Advocacy day

This year almost all the mental health advocacy organizations worked together to organize Kansas’ mental health advocacy day in Topeka. We wanted to bring mental health consumers together to talk to legislators about issues important to them. This year the most consumers ever had come to the event, almost 350 people because we knew it was an important day. We were facing drastic budget cuts to the mental health system. I got interviewed by Mecca Rayne of KSNTV news in Topeka. When I was talking to her, I told her that I had made six suicide attempts but the mental health system had been there for me to help me get through some of the tough times. I realized that if we cut the mental health budget, then people might die, people who could have recovered. People like me.

We went through the day helping advocates to speak their minds and at the end of the day some of us organizers sat around at a table and gathered up surveys and reports of the legislator contacts. Many of the legislators said that budget cuts were unavoidable. It was a very sad moment because we all knew the impact of cuts, the human impact in names and faces and programs that really were quite effective. It also doesn’t make sense to cut the budget, because when people lose their mental health services, more of us end up in jails and homeless shelters. It costs sixteen times as much to house someone in jail than to provide outpatient community mental health treatment. So budget cuts wouldn’t even save money, and we all knew it in our hearts.

So I stood up and said, “I have a poem for this moment.” They almost didn’t listen to me but Susan Crain Lewis, the CEO of Mental Health America of the Heartland, knew my work and put in a good word for me. I recited my poem called “I Voted Twice for Bush,” and that helped lighted up the moment. That poem just helped us all relax and get through that very painful and sad moment as what we fought for looked like it was going to keep crashing down. It turned out that year that Kansas approved a sales tax increase, so the budget cuts didn’t end up being nearly quite as harsh as we had feared.

I wrote another poem about how much that day changed me called, “How Do You Know When You Have Power?

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