Each fall, as the leaves slowly begin to be tinged with brilliant red and gold, the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS) holds its annual conference somewhere in the Catskill Mountains. This year, the conference was held Sept. 24-26 in Callicoon, New York, situated in a beautiful mountain valley in the southwestern region of the state.
NYAPRS occupies a pivotal role in New York and in the U.S. mental health community. Under the leadership of executive director Harvey Rosenthal, the organization has been able to lead in the development and evolution of the peer support movement in New York. At the same time, it has fostered and supported a powerful voice for peers at the national level. Most recently, Rosenthal wrote a hard-hitting op-ed piece for USA Today on the inappropriate link being drawn between gun violence and mental illness.
More than 650 participants traveled to Callicoon for this year’s event.
Many of the topics at each NYAPRS conference are very similar to those that can be found in other major national conferences—addressing the opioid crisis, wellness and resiliency, cultural competency, and workforce challenges, among a wide variety of others. However, uniquely, each is addressed from the vantage point of peers.
Other topics simply are unique to peers—the peer recovery support model, self-directed care, wellness self-care, and life by our own design, among many more. Obviously, such analyses are valuable not only to peers but to all who are engaged in mental health care. We have much to learn about the important peer innovation currently underway throughout our country.
Each year, NYAPRS also strives to recognize key leaders for contributions to the field. Among the award winners this year were Sally Zinman, who received a lifetime achievement award for outstanding leadership and contributions to the development of a national peer movement, and Clarencetine “Teena” Brooks, Robert Kent and Victor Pate, each of whom received a public policy leadership award for outstanding contributions at the state or community level. I also was fortunate to receive a lifetime achievement award at this ceremony.
Gripping concern was expressed throughout the conference about the inappropriate linkage being drawn between mass shootings and mental illness. As we all know, this linkage is totally inaccurate and inappropriate. It simply does not reflect the reality of mass shootings, which are most often motivated by hate-driven by ideology. The broad availability of guns makes these events possible. NYAPRS plans to undertake additional steps in New York and nationally to combat the stigma generated by the false association of gun violence and mental illness.
Our hats are off to Rosenthal and the entire staff of NYAPRS for a truly exceptional fall conference. In this time of problems and perplexities in our field, it is so very refreshing to participate in a conference that renews one’s energy and offers a strong sense of optimism and hope for the future. Congratulations, NYAPRS! You have been able to accomplish both.