Jennifer Wilding: Consensus Decision Making might fix fear based mental health funding

 Wellness Wordworks has been working with two different organizations lately using Consensus Decision Making.

Thomas Hernandez, one of our partners for Consensus Decision Making

Corinna West with Thomas Hernandez, one of our partners for Consensus Decision Making. He says, "Medications really helped me recover." This difference helps balance our personal experience.

Consensus Decision Making is a powerful process that theoretically allows for minority opinion areas to be heard in a group. One group doing this that Wellness Wordworks collaborates with  is the Kansas Mental Health Provider Coalition and one is Consensus KC. We’ve learned that most public consensus decision making is unconscious. It’s not based on data, it’s based on emotion. People in the public often are still afraid of people with mental health labels.

Pam Hyde, the director of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, explained the public consensus decision making process during her keynote speech at Alternatives 2011: “The only time public attention is paid to mental health is when there is a mass shooting. Then people say, ‘More gun control, more hospitals,’ instead of looking to services we know that work. It’s time to stop saying, “This is a group of people we have to lock up since they are so dangerous.’ Instead we need to say, ‘These people are so talented and valuable that we can’t keep wasting them with illness.'”

Here is s very similar speech she gave the next day at a different confernce, although the lines I just quoted may have been omitted. I don’t agree with her whole speech, since I don’t think disability due to behavioral health needs to expand. If we create effective options to help people completely recovery, disability rates can start to go back down. Work on consensus decision making can help build a public will to fund what’s effective.


Guest post on Consensus Decision Making: “When progress takes more than birds of a feather,” by Jennifer Wilding

In the olden days, when most people lived in small towns and mobility was limited, we had to get along with folks who thought differently from us, even when they made us want to bang our heads against the wall. These days, we find it easier and easier to surround ourselves with like-minded people. One author has traced the migration of people since the mid-1970s and found that while Americans have become less segregated by race, we have become significantly more segregated by political party. Why does this matter? One reason is that when we talk mainly with people who agree with us, we all tend to move to the extremes and discussion of any topic becomes polarized.

Consensus KC created The Civility Project in part to deal with that situation. Consensus KC is a nonprofit that has, since 1984, engaged the public in important policy issues. Its board and consulting team were concerned about the level of rancor and hostility we saw during the health care town hall meetings of 2009. We had a feeling we were not alone. We convened 20 focus groups to talk with residents of metro KC and Lawrence about what civility means to them and how they want our communities to deal with issues where people disagree. Consensus Decsion making is a powerful tool for this.

What people told us was that civility was about respect. It doesn’t mean that we agree, it means that we’re willing to listen to other viewpoints. When people talked about the kinds of discussions they want to have, they talked about civility as offering a guarantee that they can have an honest, lively discussion without being insulted or subjected to personal attacks. They felt that was important because, as citizens, they want to be engaged in public life. They also understood that when people with different perspectives can have an honest and free discussion, we have a better chance of being able to solve problems than if all we can do is wave signs at each other.

Consensus KC offers a class on consensus decision making and how to increase the level of civility when dealing with difficult issues. In the class, we talk about how organizations can increase civility by changing the way they approach the problem, the people and the process. As individuals, we can all have an impact on our ability to work together when we disagree. If I had to sum it up in one word, the word would be: Listen. Be willing to consider other viewpoints. Be willing to look for the truth behind what someone else is saying. Be willing to be quiet so another can speak. When you do that, you raise the level of civility and help our community work together across differences.

How we are using Consensus Decision Making at Wellness Wordworks:

Wellness Wordworks is meeting with people from NAMI Kansas City, University of Kansas, Jackson County Commisioners, the Kansas Disability Rights Center, and Wyandot Behavioral Health to see if  we can come to some kind of consensus on mental health care in Kansas City.  It seems that there are really three main inputs to mental health advocacy:

  • The status quo system based on discrimination that reacts to public fears by funding large institutions like hospitals, jails and nursing homes even though tons of research has shown these are less effective and cost more.
  • The mainstream advocates that ask for community mental health services that mainly use medication and diagnoses to treat people.
  • The peer based advocates who question the evidence base for medications and labels and ask for peer services and complementary and alternative medicine approaches.

And of course, since we are complex people, each of us can overlap and intermingle between the categories.

Consensus decision making is a powerful tool to bring these points of view together to shift public funding to more efficient ways of helping people. Let’s fund what’s effective, not what’s expensive.

We want YOU to tell us how to use your consensus decision making ideas:



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