On March 4, 2002, in Charlottesville, Terry and I interviewed Paul Patrick, a legendary figure in the Virginia Mental Movement. In the 1980s Paul Patrick began the lifesaving and "lifegiving" work of forming a political movement of people with mental illness. He went on to found Virginia's first and most renowned drop-in center, On Our Own in Charlottesville. To this day he has been in the vanguard of those propelling us into a future of esteem, belonging, and self-determination. Though we experienced technical difficulties in recording Paul's words, his kind, thoughtful manner is apparent. Terry and I were so moved by Paul's style and demeanor that we remarked to each other "This man is Christ-like."
Marc: This is Marc Cowgill with Empowerment for Healthy Minds. Today I’m interviewing Paul Patrick, a leader in the consumer movement in Virginia, to learn about his history and anything he would like to share with us today. What can you like to tell us about the early history? Tell us what you want to tell us.
Paul: You mean before there was the Commonwealth Clubhouse Association where all the clubhouse consumers advocated for themselves. That was in 1984 and it was pretty much on this side of the mountain. In the Washington area and all the way through Harrisonburg and the Roanoke Clubhouse was involved. It was more on this side of the state than down toward Richmond and east and west that much.
Marc: What led you to become active?
Paul: Through being in the hospital and I didn’t want people going through what I went through.
Marc: Can you talk a little bit about that? It must have been tough. You must have had some rough times.
Paul: Well I got put in the hospital with Schizophrenia when I was 12 years old and was there until I was 18.
Marc: And that was at what hospital? Was that at Western State?
Paul: No, that was in Northern Va. First I was in the Virginia Treatment Center for Children in Richmond and then in Northern Virginia. I try to think about what had happened. The thing is that I didn’t have any rights as a patient. Cause I was under l8. Getting involved with the head of the state mental health planning council, it used to be in the state legislature’s building ……… early eighties when I was going through the mental health planning council to be the consumer but they didn’t want me to do anything. They just wanted me to be there, so they could say they had their token consumer. And when the right timing came, I started writing the proposals for the Commonwealth Clubhouse Association. With Dr. Belaquava. He said sounds like something that will work, so he gave the initial $9000 to do the Commonwealth Clubhouse.
Terry: Dr. Belaquava was the Commissioner of Mental Health?
Terry: So the Department of Mental Health sponsored this?
Marc: What people were involved in that?
Paul: There was a board of two people from each clubhouse….. just giving each other support That was the major thing. It started out that each area has its own meeting place…they could still meet with each other and then the money got cut –not Wilder but Gerald Bailies cut some of the funding for mental health and the Department to do the Clubhouse Association…but….we kept everything close knit anyway and it was still going but it was just going without money……………..drop-in-center and the very first consumer conference that I went to out of state …programs that weren’t connected to the system…………….the first grant we got was through HUD. For the homeless and the mentally ill. Our main focus then was on the homeless mentally ill………. And then we started getting money from the department and we opened it up to other areas. Better than I thought they were. I didn’t think that it would last this long.
Marc: What has helped you the most in doing this kind of work? Has it been people fellow consumers – survivors? I don’t know, do you consider yourself a consumer or a survivor?
Paul: A psychiatric survivor
Marc: Has it been other psychiatric survivors who have helped you in your work the most or has it been people on the other side of the fence? Has it been administrators or people part of the system who listened to you and helped you in doing the work you do?
Paul: Both, you know both…………the budget and the Governor is not going to be there for a lot of things that the CSBs…………………………………………………………… We’re working with a project to get people out of Western State and then get them into housing here in the community . They live at the drop-in-center for two months. Then we help them find housing in town. In just the last three months, we’ve gotten 12 people out of the hospital.
Marc: How do you identify people in the hospital to bring out?
Paul: We go over there and work with the social workers at the hospital and see who is the best candidate.
Marc: Has the hospital always been pretty open to concerns and requests by survivors to have access to the place and how have they treated you over the years?
Paul: I’ve been going back and forth over there for 12 years and I haven’t had any problems.
Paul: Support group and then I worked with Ben Sm--- with the housing thing we’re doing right now with Western State. We’re picking it up again this year . . . Consumers cost 3 or 4 thousand dollars per day to keep them in the hospital and we can do it for 200 dollars per month and get them in their own place.
Marc: A then have some freedom for a change. So when you work with the social workers, do you just go into a unit and hang out with people and get to know them that way?
Paul: I did. Then I would ask people what they wanted, and that’s why it’s lasted so long.
Marc: Why haven’t social workers taken the initiative and why has it had to come from survivors to do this kind of work?
Paul: The money is not there like it is in other parts of the system. You can tell professionals to change, to “do it this way.” Professionals at Western State do try to do their job, better than most places I’ve seen.
Terry: Can I ask you how you’d react? I’m not getting the indication from Southwestern State in Marion that they would welcome direct interaction with the patients. What would be the most successful approach to an institution which does not seem very open to consumer or community input into what’s going on with the well-being of their patients?
Paul: For one, Marion is part of the Department of Corrections, it’s not a hospital of mental health.
Terry: I thought it used to be utilized partially that way, but I didn’t know it was part or the Department of Corrections.
Paul: Yes two years ago. There would be a lot of hoops you have to jump through there. If it could happen that would be good. But I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon.
Marc: What kind of advice do you have for people interested in advocating for other people?
Paul: First you got to find out what the other people want before you go out and advocate. If not, then everything you do is top-down. Virginia Mental Health Consumers Association is an example. They set up the big office part, but didn’t have the core group of consumers in the communities especially at the start. We had a support group before we started the drop-in center.
Marc: How big a support group?
Paul: 15 of us.
Terry: We’re struggling with how to identify potential consumer leaders who are willing to be visible in the community and express their needs and their issues in the New River Valley and we’re trying to get an all-consumer board for our organization. Do you think that consumer-run organizations should have all-consumer boards?
Paul: Our board is set up with an advisory board which includes social workers from Region 10 and me. My work is very easy these days because I just advise.
Terry: That has worked well? Cause I’ve read that it’s good to have a decision-making board and an advisory board.
Paul: I think it works because it won’t just let something slip through the cracks. Organizations, the reason they have such a hard time is because they don’t have a focus on what their goals are, their objectives are or even what their policy or mission statement is.
Terry: Your input is just so valuable. We were talking about these issues on the way over here. Your perspective just puts things in focus.
Marc: What are your other plans? You're going to continue to bring people out of the hospital?
Paul: Yes we'll be continuing out activities.
Marc: You’ve been talking about working with fellow survivors and interfacing with the system that looks after them What ideas do you have about our relationship to the general public, the people who don’t know anything about mental illness? Have you thought much about what we can do to relate to society? We’re trying to figure out ways to bring people into the movement, have them be part of what we’re about, who we are.
Paul: In the past it was “I’ll do my thing, you do your thing” but I see that breaking down and more people working together.
Marc: Will Gallik said something about you at one point were sleeping out in front of the Mayor’s residence?
Paul: I just pitched a tent.
Marc: What were you trying to get him to do?
Paul: To see the needs of the homeless.
Marc: How long did you have to do that?
Paul: Only one night, they threatened to put me in jail, and it to me it wasn’t worth that much.
Paul: We need to be part of the community boards that are around. Cause if we’re not, there will be some people over here and some people over there. There are a lot of friends of mine who are homeless. We don’t question it.
Marc: Do you think there is a problem with the way people treat homeless people?
Paul: I haven’t seen that in this community.
Terry: We appreciate it! We are just neophytes.
Marc: This interview is eventually going on our website so people in Scotland and Denmark and places like that can listen to you. Is there anything you’d like to tell the world?
Paul: No. (laughter)
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