Solution based advocacy part 2: The distress model points to complete recovery

Or which solution based advocacy rabbits we’re not chasing any longer……

We’ve been working with various strategy advisors lately as well as learning from many different points of view. We premiered our solution based advocacy approach on Martin Luther King Day. Stephanie Zamorra from Kansas City Sourcelink is one of the best small business development professionals in Kansas City. She heard my business idea right on day 1 of the Fast Trac entrepreneurship training program and told us to focus. She said, “You know the saying, ‘He who chases two rabbits doesn’t eat.’ ”

Lately we’re figuring out which rabbits to stop chasing to refine our solution based advocacy approach.

This started with engagement with the Kansas Mental Health Coaliton, an organization of mental health providers who wanted to have more recovery movement input but didn’t know how to make it happen. We’ll make some further posts about how to give them input and how other organizations can increase input.  The best part of interacting with that group came from their director, Glenn Yancey, who said,  “Your ideas are good. They can stand on their own. There’s no need to criticize other people’s ideas.” Hence the focus now on solution based advocacy. Also TONS of credit goes to Paul Cumming for helping us develop this approach.

We want to promote complete mental health recovery. This is the idea that it’s possible and not horribly hard or dangerous to get off all medications, work, be engaged with the community, and not have mental health symptoms. Complete recovery means all this stuff just goes away. How? Our solution based advocacy approach is to spread far and wide the distress model of mental health and not the disease model.  Here’s a video that explains some of the difference.

Wellness Wordwork’s solution based advocacy message:

Our goal is to help all people suffering from emotional distress to solve the root causes of emotional distress, not the symptoms that emerge later. We’ve explained in a previous blog the research behind how emotional suffering causes psychosis and not the other way around. Please vote NOW to support this idea:

Lately we’ve come to the following solution based advocacy decisions on how to best spread this message.

1) Solution based advocacy means NO more disease model criticism.

Our main goal is the share the distress model approach to mental health which says that emotional suffering is a normal reaction to really bad junk going on in our lives. The other idea is that emotional suffering just comes absolutely out of the blue with no life causes (the disease model).

Our business has 17 or so assorted sub-goals to do this, and 14 or so of them are all much more effective with a positive, happy message than critical or negative messaging. The 3 or so goals that need to share problems with the mental health system are not revenue generating and slow our work on the other goals. So We’re leaving all the disease model criticism to the tons of other advocates who do it. Solution based advocacy means we can do pro-distress model messaging without doing very much anti-disease model messaging. We just have to show how our ideas are better, we don’t have to criticize anyone else’s ideas to do this. We can link to lots of science showing how distress based approaches are more productive, humane, evidence-based and cost efficient without harping on how disease based approaches have been harmful.

2) We can reach a much larger audience with solution based advocacy

This is a much more accessible message, and won’t anger and scare away disease model advocates. Some of my best friends are still disease model based advocates, and if they tell me, “I don’t like what you’re saying,” that means that 30 other people didn’t like it either and just went away and stopped listening without bothering to tell me.

Corinna West at Judo Class at Hillcrest community center handling stress through exercise

Corinna West at Judo Class at Hillcrest community center handling stress through exercise

Solution based advocacy allows us to move way beyond preaching to the choir. We can simply use art to share our emotion since honoring emotions is the ultimate solution to emotional distress. We can share compassion about the disease model advocates’ point of view and excitement about our potential solutions. None of this requires taking anyone on head on at all.

But God bless the other people willing to go head on – cause we really, really need people to keep speaking out about injustice. It’s awful how many people are being harmed by excessive use of labels and medications without an evidence base for it. But for me to create the most effective solutions, I need to focus my time and energy on solutions and let other people do the speaking out.

We just need to keep doing it in a respectful manner.  If we say “Meds don’t work at all,” that’s a direct contradiction to all the people out there that love their meds. Then they instantly turn off our message. I know that many of those people have confused efficacy for withdrawal symptoms, but to message to the most people, we can’t be scaring people off. Also it’s not effective to deny their personal experience. Remember, that’s exactly what was done to us, and if our story matters, so does theirs even if it’s based on a lie they haven’t learned yet.

3) I’ll be cultivating people besides myself to share solution based advocacy with mental health providers

This is coming from Corinna West as poet, bicyclist, Olympic Judo athlete, Christian, stepmom, AND psychiatric survivor. Mental health providers are not my main audience. It upsets me to talk and not be heard. I can’t speak truth to power when I am hurt and angry and they are terrified of budget cuts. I am ineffective working with this audience.

Listening to people like my homeless friend Henry is key for solution based advocacy

Listening to people like my homeless friend Henry is key for solution based advocacy

Instead, my key audiences are people in recovery at all stages of distress model awareness. If someones asks me to talk to providers, I”m now looking for a group of peer advocates who are willing to come to provider meetings in exchange for an honest honorarium reflecting our consulting knowlege, plus travel expenses. Click our volunteer list to sign up to be this kind of person.

For me, personally, my trauma issues make this very hard for me unless there are huge long term potentials to advance my message or my business. My other main audience is outside the MH system: bicyclists, entrepreneurs, artists, poets, Christians, etc. who also do better with a pro distress model message than an anti-disease model message. Very few mental health advocates can reach outside the system with messaging so capitalizing on this will be huge to build supporters, recruit volunteers, for prevention campaigns, and building different funding sources.

 4) I am willing  to grow this as big as it takes.

When I realized that my business was growing larger than me, I asked for volunteers and in 2 months 45 people volunteered for me. Many of these people told me that what I’m doing is important, so I want to keep building as positively and hopefully as possible. I’m accepting the fact that I must be destined to be some kind of leader, and trying to make a commitment to compassionate, careful messaging that alienates as few people as possible. This is what solution based advocacy is all about.

When I realized that my former employer wasn’t going to be able to use all my skills, I wrote a poem about trying to decide how big I can get, and this became “The Train Poem.” I’ll be as big as it takes to extend this world embrace so that all humans have a voice and a face.


5) Solutions are king. It’s time to be LOUD about what works, and how and why.

We need numbers, data, outcomes, as much information as possible to spread far and wide. We can get word out fast and far now using social media in a way that has never been possible before. We don’t have time NOT to learn these techniques. Anyone who is asking questions about mental health is wondering what else we can do. We need to have this question answered loudly, publicly, effectively, honestly, and compellingly. The time is NOW to share your recovery story and your programs’ successes.

Vote for us at the SAMHSA feedback forums, and tell, us, what is your solution based advocacy approach?


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