Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Phyllis Vine's "Fighting for Recovery"

After a successful twenty-year career teaching college-level history (University of Michigan, Union College, and Sarah Lawrence College) Phyllis Vine resigned her tenure at Sarah Lawrence College and undertook journalism training (at Columbia University's J School). Informed by a masters degree in Public Health (from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health), she became a full time writer and editor of a website hosting opinions and reader contributions about behavioral health, while aggregating news and information about mental illnesses. (now defunct) enabled some of the earliest conversations introducing recovery-oriented initiatives into the larger community. Partly due to her family's experience of mental illness in every generation, and partly because she taught the history of health care to graduate students studying health advocacy, writing about mental health is a natural byproduct of her life's journey.

In addition to three previous books, Vine's work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals as diverse as the History of Education Quarterly, American Journal of Orthpsychiatry, to chapters in specialized volumes such as Research in Community and Mental Health. Later, her investigative reporting appeared in City Limits, The Nation and Extra!

Vine applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Fighting for Recovery: An Activists' History of Mental Health Reform, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Fighting for Recovery drops the reader into First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s publicity campaign to make mental health reform a national priority. This is the fifth of the background chapters setting the stage for understanding the passions driving reform. Chapter Five, A First Lady’s Law, portrays Carter’s 1978 appearance on Good Morning America. It is timed to the release of a report from the President’s Commission on Mental Health which carries a consequential price-tag of $500 million. Page 99 explains footage recorded the day prior, when an ABC film crew tracked Carter’s visit to the Green Door. It was a community program for discharged patients “honing skills for independent living and employment.” Rosalynn Carter engages with former patients who are shopping at the local grocery, preparing a meal, and discussing difficulties finding jobs. This footage sets the scene for the interview (on the next page) where she reacts to an interviewer’s stigma about mental illness, and graciously puts him on a path to a better understanding about the needs of discharged patients who, she says, can live outside of a hospital with proper supports.

The Page 99 Test confirms what readers can expect. Throughout the book, activists challenge fictions and notable larger-than-life personalities command the moment; there are specific examples of former patients building a life in the community, and there is backlash. In the midst of all of this, long before the public comprehends illnesses which were fraught with misunderstanding and are largely feared, state hospitals were closing. Fighting for Recovery reveals how activists of all stripes – disability rights lawyers, former patients with lived experience, politicians, families, researchers – fought a war of medical and popular opinion to set a course for a recovery movement. Although the field was crowded, this narrative is inspired by the grassroots activists whose recovery from mental illness included creating networks for building programs with person-centered choice, autonomy, and self-help. Each chapter of Fighting for Recovery brackets something unique, such as a conflict, a situation, or an individual -- Rosalynn Carter is one of many – accruing results with initiatives pointing toward recovery. Today we recognize these in the advocacy training of peer services, or among non-medical first responders whose crisis intervention techniques include diversion from jail or hospital. Beginning with the mandate to close hospitals nearly 70 years ago, campaigns for recovery continue, and the final chapters of Fighting for Recovery reveal how the strategies and programs continue to warrant attention.
Visit Phyllis Vine's website.

--Marshal Zeringue