Advocates fight to improve the lives of mental health patients
Barbara Beckert began her career in the corporate world. Surrounded by business negotiations and enterprise, mental health was not a primary interest of hers, but that changed quickly when her son Max was born prematurely with complications that put him in the Katie-Beckett program for children with mental disabilities.
Suddenly, the state of the mental health care system in the United States became a large and concerning part of her world.
“That got me very interested,” Beckert said, “Outraged, actually, about health care access as well as our long-term care system because there is very much an institutional bias.”
Beckert ran into what she describes as a "bias" firsthand when she attempted to take Max home for the first time, which both shocked and motivated her to take on problems that she saw in the mental health care system.
“If Max stayed in the hospital, [our] two private insurances would pay everything, but for him to come home, they would only pay 80 percent. And we’re talking about the cost for him to come home being thousands and thousands of dollars every week, so that didn’t make a lot of sense,” Beckert said. “Less to serve someone in the community, better for them, but the insurance will only pay for the institution, and that’s kind of the way our system in the US has been, that there is that institutional bias and there isn’t as much funding for community care.”
In the fight for social justice and human rights for those who have been placed in certain institutions for their mental health treatment, Beckert is not alone in what she does. Disability Rights Wisconsin is a protection and advocation agency that works with Beckert and a team of mental health advocates and professionals to change the stigma surrounding mental health care in institutions.
As the director of Disability Rights Wisconsin’s Milwaukee office, Barbara Beckert works daily to stand up to fight for people who she feels are often “oppressed” in Milwaukee mental health facilities.
“The reason why the protection and advocacy network was originally founded was because of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities in institutional settings, that is always the highest priority of our work,” Beckert said.
With the state of the mental health care in Milwaukee, being “extremely concerning” according to Beckert, it is difficult to say what needs to be done to improve mental health care in Milwaukee, but Zachary Quade, the office manager of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in the greater Milwaukee area, has a few suggestions.
According to Quade, the most important thing that mental health advocates and people looking to improve the quality of the mental health care system is to promote more “community based services.”
Quade believes that mental health patients do not always have their rights as American citizens upheld and respected, and he likens the struggles they face with the mental health care system to being robbed of their rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
“I am willing to debate anyone about the inability of someone with mental illness to be able to exercise these rights in the same proportion as your average Caucasus-derived male individual.”
As Beckert and Quade agree, there is a certain stigma that is associated with those with mental illness and instead of disbanding this stigma, they argue that the current mental health care system embraces it and by doing this, deprives mental health patients of certain unalienable rights they are entitled to.
Beckert questioned why there is a lack of community mobilization concerning mental health injustices, and Quade cited a lack of empathy and understanding for why people might be uncomfortable calling the mental healthcare system out for what he says are civil injustices.
Quoting Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Quade echoed that, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”