Below please find a few links for people who are active with Unitarian Universalist churches and the topic of mental health justice.
Please note this list is not officially connected to any church. However, I am a UU member who has worked for 40 years on mental health activism.
These resources are an ongoing project, so check back later and there may some changes.
Facebook group on the topic of UU Mental Health Justice:
One of the main pioneers to work on mental health issues is the UU minister Rev. Barbara Meyers. You can find information about her and her many projects here:
One of the main UU ministers to embrace the mental health justice movement is Rev. Phil Schulman. You can find him on Facebook here:
One of his projects is Advocates for Humanity, which you can find on Facebook here:
Below you will find some info about the proposed panelists, yes, I am one of them. Of course you can find a few other entries on this blog related to this topic. This proposal for the UU General Assembly June 2015 in Portland, OR, was turned down but you may be interested in what we came up with:
Rev. Dr. Steven Epperson has been the Parish Minister of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver (Canada) for the past 13 years. Personal experience and pastoral engagement with the congregation and the wider community have shown that emotional and mental distress is widespread, deeply painful, and misunderstood and poorly treated in our conventional mental health systems. In response, he has spoken in public numerous times on our “mental health crisis” with his congregation, regional UU youth, and cable TV. As well, with his partner Diana, he co-directs an adult education program that promotes emotional, mental and physical well-being and flourishing. That program includes “mad matters” seminars, a Madness Radio Listening Group, hearing voices and psychiatric drug tapering groups, documentary film nights and public speakers events. They also meet monthly for fellowship, a good potluck meal, and to write letters advocating for human rights and health alternatives for people dealing with mental and emotional distress.
The Rev. Dr. Devorah Greenstein works with and on behalf of, people from historically marginalized communities. Her educational training has given her contextual and theoretical perspectives in which she grounds her anti-oppression work. Her work includes educating and developing resources for religious professionals, lay leaders, and other individuals and groups engaged in anti-oppressive, multicultural transformation work to confront institutional and cultural ageism, ableism, racism, classism, and heterosexism. Rev. Greenstein is an adjunct and advising faculty for the UU Starr Academy. She was on the Board of Directors of EqUUal Access, a group which promotes equality and access for UUs with disabilities, and for eight years was the Program Coordinator for the Office of Accessibility Concerns for the UUA. She has authored “Some Disability Etiquette Tips for Greeting People,” “Helping Children Who are Deaf,” “The Power of Language, the Language of Power,” and “Backyards and Butterflies: Ways to Include Children with Disabilities in Outdoor Activities.”
Marcia Meyers is a 68-year-old, effusive retired teacher, who in her own words, “Identifies, in this order, as a grandmother, a teacher and an activist.” She dedicated 33 years to teaching in the public school system, during which she was active in the teacher’s union, both locally and nationally. Five years ago, Marcia began her work with the Economic Justice Action Group of the First UU Church of Portland. Four years ago, Marcia’s youngest daughter was coercively placed in the Oregon psychiatric lock-up, where she experienced one year of involuntary drugging with five different psychiatric drugs. So Marcia helped start one of the most effective, grassroots, activist groups for mental health justice, Rethinking Psychiatry, which has involved hundreds of people in many events such as gatherings and film festivals.
David W. Oaks experienced five psychiatric lock-ups while attending Harvard, but a social service group at Harvard referred him to grassroots activism in this field. He graduated with honors in 1977, and has devoted his adult life to working in the psychiatric survivors’ social change movement. He helped found one of the main independent human rights groups in mental health, and spent 25 years working as MindFreedom International’s executive director. In December 2012, David had a bad fall and broke his neck. He is now in a power chair with the disability label of “quad.” He joined the UU Church in Eugene and has branched out his activism to include all disability and climate change.
Here are a few links related to the proposed panelists:
Some links regarding Rev. Steve Epperson:
cable TV interview on David Berner Show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7fHjYtc8Nw
Some links regarding Rev. Greenstein:
Video on Radically Subversive Religious Leadership:
Some links regarding Marcia Meyers:
Video of Marcia presenting:
Some links regarding David Oaks:
Video of David presenting at a protest of the American Psychiatric Association, before his fall:
Video of David after his fall:
Here is a summary of our proposed panel for the 2015 GA, it is a proposal but we hope it is accepted:
We’re the 100%! Building Creative Ways to Mental Health Justice
Mental health is not just about those of us given a diagnosis. How can families and congregational leaders be awesome allies for youth and adults in mental health care? In what ways can physical and mental disability movements partner? In a time of extreme inequality and climate change, how do we build a new way to mental wellness for all? Your voice is very welcome!
Rev. Steven Epperson
Rev. Dr. Devorah Greenstein
David W. Oaks
Goals of this program:
Addressing the area of Leadership:
We seek to help UU congregations live into a new way of being that is intentionally inclusive of people with mental health difficulties. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 4.1 percent of the U.S. adult population has a “serious” mental disorder, and the lifetime prevalence of “severe” mental disorders for 13 to 18 year-olds is 21.4%, but this panel discussion will challenge all leaders to encourage and support one another through questioning the power of labels. A goal of this panel discussion is to proactively respond to the increasing use of psychiatric diagnoses by considering the way each and every one of us must work on our mental wellness. As EqUUal Access puts it in their Views, “How do we respond to the situation where wide-spread belief in stereotypes is harmful to many people in society?” Inclusion of people diagnosed with mental disorders in our congregations is in line with the EqUUal Access effort for congregational certification in disabilities that will be announced at this General Assembly.
The panel discussion will share their real life stories about inclusion of youth with mental disorder diagnoses and the way the physical disability movement can apply its vision of inclusion to mental disability.
Addressing the area of Culture and Identity:
We seek to build a movement of people who will widen the perspective of congregations to serve, empower and bring meaning to people with mental health difficulties. We will build a new way towards support for people with mental disorder diagnoses so that they can see themselves as “insiders,” by showing how more dominant groups and the 100% wrestle every day with serious mental issues such as economic inequality, global warming, etc.
Addressing the area of Partnership:
This panel discussion seeks to further the building of a movement within UUism, with members of many congregations participating and cooperating jointly, for mental health advocacy. Participants will learn the basics about a little-known, diverse, international, social change movement that has worked for 40 years to transform the mental health system, and bring it towards human rights, choice, alternatives and empowerment. We will recognize the worth and dignity of all people involved with mental health, even though they themselves may be very divided in their perspectives. Our panel discussion will enhance the ability of participants to partner with people and other organizations with diverse visions of mental health.
Addressing the area of Spirituality:
This work is closely linked to the first principle “Inherent worth and dignity of every person,” the second principle “Justice, equity and compassion for all,” and the fourth principle “search for truth and meaning.” Participants will learn that MLK frequently, for more than a decade, used the psychological idea of “creative maladjustment” as a spiritual basis for his social justice activism. We will build a new way to reignite his vision for the future!
The program addresses these criteria specified by the GA 2015:
- Our panel discussion is a very good fit and we address all four facets in the theme itself of “Building a New Way.”
- All four of us are members of UU Churches, two are UU Ministers, and we all ground our social justice activism in our UU covenantal faith tradition.
- We chose winnable learning goals, below please find what we think is a very effective strategy to achieve all four of our goals.
- UU Congregations and communities need to build a new, open way to welcome this increasing minority.
- We incorporate a holistic approach to multi-issue activism including antiracism, anti-oppression, multicultural awareness and practice, and we link this issue to economic justice and even addressing climate change.
- The presenters include activists who have come out of a very difficult “closeted” identity: family members of loved ones who are in mental health care and psychiatric survivor that is an individual who identifies as having been traumatized by poor mental health care.
- We will offer many examples and stories of partnership in the wider community, especially mental health justice, but also with the physical disability movement, human rights activism, and many others.
- We believe in always taking into account the participation of people of all abilities, and of multiple generations and learning styles, and we will offer participants a special web page for post-panel discussion and UU resources.
- We are avoiding jargon and technical material, we wish to reach everyone, so we are well-suited to the GA format and audience.
- We will all use real-world examples to illustrate concepts based on our activism in our UU communities.
- In all modesty, this is a world-class panel. We are willing and capable of fostering engaged participation and/or interaction because that is part of our strategy.
- We appreciate the theme and goals for this GA, because they have drawn out our best thinking about a very difficult issue. We have communicated with several previous GA presenters on mental health, and their work has helped so much. But as far as we know, this is one of the first panels connecting mental health justice to the wider world, we are truly building a new way for mental health justice. We hope this shows depth, inspiration and prophetic vision.
Contents and Activities:
Before and after this panel, we will use social media to include a wider audience. At the start of this panel, we will use a brief icebreaker to make sure everyone feels as welcome and safe as possible.
The panelists will address four real life stories: How youth and adults in the mental health system were included in UU congregations. How the physical disability movement has connected with the movement to change the mental health system. Connections between the movements for economic justice and transformation of the mental health system. How the climate crisis means that everyone must be in a big movement for mental wellness.
We will give real-life stories about partnering with this very big, but highly divided mental health community. We will not dwell on divisions, such as loyalty or rejection to the medical model, but we will instead call for a third way, which we call deep welcoming, based on our First Principle. We will insist on mutual respect between all people, even when highly controversial topics are brought up.
Our three-part strategy: (a) We talk about our stories of mental health justice activism, (b) We invite participants to build a new way for mental health justice to connect with everyone, 100%, and (c) We will definitely allow time and dignity for diverse views from the participants.
Programming selected by the PDG will be scheduled Thursday, June 25 through Saturday, June 27. Are there any known scheduling limitations for your program that we should be aware of (such as limited availability of speakers)?
Because of disability accessibility and transport, we need to have this panel in the afternoon, preferably 2 pm or later.
Barbara F. Meyers
Board member in UU EqUUal Access.
Fremont, CA 94536
Rev. Katie Norris
UU Minister who has worked on brain health.
El Cerrito, CA 94530
Jeanne-marie Moore, LCSW
Accessibility Committee, Lay Leader, UU Church in Eugene
Eugene, OR 97401
3 thoughts on “Some Mental Health Justice Resources Related to Unitarian Universalism”
I agree that finding language that is inclusive of everyone’s experience is a tricky business. It is especially tricky when it comes to talking about mental health/mental illness/psychiatric disorders/disabilities/impairments/lunacy/demon possession/or whatever you want to call whatever condition you are talking about. People who think of it one way get triggered when other people talk of it another way. The words become barriers to understanding rather than bridges to understanding. And if someone uses a certain word then others often imagine a whole stereotype of the person based on the usage of one word.
I think that its very hard to really understand each other the more abstract the language is. It is easier to understand each other if we mindfully listen to each others experiences and try to find common ground and learn from each other and understand each other as well as teach each other new ideas.
I agree with Phil that there isn’t anything fundamentally different from those who are now defined as mentally ill and those who are not. However, all of us along the spectrum are not having the same experiences. I don’t know what it is like to be plagued by negative and harassing voices, for instance, and someone else may not know what it feels like to be constantly thinking about ending one’s life, or needing to take 5 showers per day, or being afraid to leave the one’s house.
There has to be ways and categories that we can share with each other to communicate our experiences both good and bad, to each other that can bring us together and help us understand the experiences we each have.
I am in awe of your work David. That is nothing new. For decades you have tried to persuade me I could champion our (human rights) movement into the awareness and participation of our UU movement. Once again your action along with your words call me to “Get on board this train to freedom.” I feel encouraged and hopeful that UUs will soon recognize, tap into and contribute to the spiritual treasure that our movement possesses.
Some of our treasure comes from our diversity, including the diversity of our viewpoints. One thing we have as a culture is a keen awareness of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Most of us have been knocked down. For some of us it took a long time to get back up. Through our journeys we learned that every needs support to thrive, and that everyone has worth.
I support the proposal for a panel, and imagine it as a step toward ending the marginalization of people that have been given psychiatric diagnoses.
It’s hard to talk about who we are without buying into the language that has put forth the false notion that we are fundamentally different from those who have not received diagnoses. When I read the phrase “include people with mental health difficulties,” I feel concerned that it implies that there are people without (and who never had) “mental health difficulties.” Experience tells me that whenever we get to know someone intimately we find that they too have wounds, burdens,and aspects of their psyche in need of healing.
I imagine that this is exactly the kind of questioning and reflection that the panel proposal hopes to encourage. I trust you and the panel to invite us all to explore. Together we will step toward a society (including what we now call a mental health system) where we value every person’s needs and hear in distress cries requests for support. .
Thanks much, my good friend, Phil. Rev. Phil is a wonderful, amazing, stupendous bridge between the Mad Movement and the UU spirit.
Phil, to respond to your post: thanks for the support of this proposal for the end of June 2015 in Portland, OR, which will be the national General Assembly for UU’s in the USA.
About language: During my several decades of activism in this field, meetings often enter the interesting area of language and what we ought to call “ourselves.”
A few replies:
Yes, I hear your concern about the phrase “mental health difficulties.” I will try to use another phrase in the future.
This panel proposal is based on the idea of one hundred percent. That is, throughout the proposal we try to lower the boundaries that divide us based on mental health labels, by pointing out that all of us, every single person, from womb to tomb, 24/7, is struggling with mental issues that are life and death. Global warming clinches that deal, and more and more so-called normal people will discover this truth.
Please, everyone see my old, kind of big essay about words and the Mad Movement, where I ask us all to avoid the phrase “mental illness” and you can find that essay by simply searching for this phrase: David Oaks let’s stop saying mental illness.
Or you can go right to that essay:
Cutting edge leaders who fight racism are doing something similar, they are celebrating differences involving skin color, but they are lowering the irrational division between us by pointing out that scientists have no test for determining any race.
Thanks again, Phil.
Everyone, please post a comment here, even a brief one, because comments on this blog entry will help in several ways. The main thing is that even a small comment will help get a conversation going on this very silenced topic.
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