Assisted Outpatient Treatment: A First-Hand Perspective

Part 3: The conversation with policy advocate Eric Smith concludes.

Posted Nov 14, 2020

Wrapping up the interview with advocate Eric Smith. 

Matt: One last question: I think most of us who do this kind of work have role models and a hero or two. Do you have any heroes in MH advocacy?

Eric: First and foremost, my mother, father, and brother are my heroes. None of them are advocates for the SMI population by trade. Out of love for me and by necessity due to my SMI diagnoses, they did everything they could over many years to get me the help I needed. Their efforts paid off, and I am confident I will never be able to repay them for the time and energy they spent on me. I believe people diagnosed with mental illness and family members of loved ones diagnosed with mental illness are the life force of advocacy for related matters. If the entirety of my response to all of your questions were only names of people diagnosed with mental illness and their family members who I consider heroes, that still wouldn’t be enough space to properly honor and thank them all. I also have to be careful about not naming people of the diagnosed population and family members of those with SMI unless I have received consent, so I wouldn’t be able to name them here as a precaution for best practices. 

Matt: Of course.

Eric: Some exceptions to that are Leslie Carpenter, Scott Carpenter, Pete Earley, Teresa Pasquini, Linda Mimms, Laura Pogliano, Martha Stringer, Susan Inman, and Linda Rippee, as each of them have spoken publicly and openly about their advocacy as family members of diagnosed loved ones. All of them are heroes who understand advocacy is a team effort. They have helped a lot get accomplished, but being a hero advocate is not only about accomplishing magnificent things or being regarded as the best advocate in the world. When someone follows their heart to help others who are in need of help, that in and of itself is heroic. Every person who peacefully and empathetically challenges society to be better is a hero advocate. 

Matt: I agree.

I must mention Judge Oscar Kazen as a hero advocate. He oversaw the AOT orders that turned my life around in the best possible way. Some of my happiest memories in recent history are when he and I spoke at conferences in Austin, Las Vegas, and Columbus, and when we collaborated as part of a team in Ohio on the AOT White Paper

Everyone who works at Treatment Advocacy Center are hero advocates, and without them there would be far more criminalization of mental illness. Everyone I have met from Peg’s Foundation out of Ohio are heroes, and not enough can be said for how devoted they are to making this world a better place with their thoughtful consideration for matters of mental illness. Janet Hays of Healing Minds NOLA is a tireless advocate who I am convinced does not ever sleep, and I enjoy cohosting a series with her that focuses entirely on SMI. Bethany Yeiser of the CURESZ Foundation is a phenomenal human being and advocate with lived experience. Many of the people I have met who work with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) have my respect as heroes. In no particular order: Dr. Ken Rosenberg, Mindy Greiling, Dr. Xavier Amador, Dr. Jeffrey Geller, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, Dr. Marvin Swartz, Dr. Robert Laitman, Judge Steven Leifman, Judge Cynthia Lu, Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer, Dr. Tim Murphy, Dr. Margie Balfour, Ron Powers, Kathy Day, and Nicholas Schrantz are all hero advocates of the professional variety.

Academic leaders who taught and challenged me to commit to ongoing professional development in many different kinds of ways are also largely to thank, because my advocacy is without question molded by their leadership. Dr. Michael Karcher, Dr. Nancy Amodei, Dr. Fred Previc, Dr. Christopher Ellison, Dr. Oak DeBerg, Professor Favor Campbell, Professor Emily Ellis-Perez (LCSW), Teshina Carter (LMSW), and Professor Al Cortez all believed in me enough to write me letters of recommendation. Reading their letters makes me want to always do my best to live up to what they wrote about me, which has been fuel in my desire to be the best advocate I can be. Dr. Amy Chanmugam and Derek Plantenga (LCSW) are excellent advisors on my advocacy journey in social work. Dr. Jelena Todic, Dr. Richard Harris, Dr. Candace Christensen, Dr. Lucinda Nevarez, Dr. Bonita Sharma, and Professor Monique Russell have all generously used their expertise to teach me many of the finer points in social work-related advocacy. 

Dr. Drew Pinsky, who I have only recently connected with, is becoming a hero of mine as I continue to learn more about his desire to better resolve homelessness, addiction, and other circumstances often associated with SMI.

Matt: Years ago I used to listen to the Loveline radio show he does with Adam Carolla. I’m glad he's lending his weight to these battles. Many of the other folks have been in the trenches for years and continue to do marvelous work.

EricDJ Jaffe, may he rest in peace, was in the trenches for a long time and he made incredible contributions over many years. He will forever be known as a hero advocate. 

Matt: DJ was a fascinating guy. He will be greatly missed.

EricSelena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Michael Phelps are doing a fantastic job as celebrity role models who champion honest dialogue about mental illness. Internationally, Prince William and Kate Middleton are doing inspirational work with Heads Together, and a while ago I received a thoughtful email response from someone on their team (the contents of which I cannot share due to a disclaimer that accompanied their email). 

There are numerous elected members of the US government across all party lines who I also hold in high regard as hero advocates. For example, when I communicate with Senator Cory Booker and Senator John Cornyn’s team, they are all enthusiastic about better addressing needs related to mental illness, and they devote a lot of time to productive conversation with me (and others) about it. Thanks to Leslie and Scott Carpenter, I have also been in communication with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ team, and she has an extensive plan for mental health reform. I remain hopeful for new bi-partisan collaboration and support.

Matt: I’ll second that. Thanks, Eric, for taking the time to talk with me.

Eric: You’re welcome, and thank you for this conversation, Matt!