On May 9th, members and representatives of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP) assembled in Washington, DC to meet with members of Congress and the Senate to discuss education, mental health, and addiction issues. The goal of these fly-ins, as we call these trips, is to present ourselves as a collective resource to those whose job it is to craft legislation for all of our citizens. After all, between us we have many years of experience, knowledge, and expertise that is pertinent to the creation of mental health laws that impact all Americans—and most especially, that impact those Americans who need protections and supports but do not have access to them or who do not know how to access these options.
Every year, a handful of program folks, alumni and alumni families, researchers, and Educational Consultants attend this fly-in, and every year we try to meet with different legislators. After all, if only a few folks in government know there are resources out there, then the voices of the majority are not heard. We take this mission seriously, and if nothing else want to impart to our legislators that there are experts who know a thing or two who can help them legislate accurately and thus, responsibly. This year, we met with a few legislators with whom we have met on previous fly-ins. We also had new opportunities to meet with other legislators and/or members of their staff. Often, we meet with legislative aides or counselors whose job it is to research specific issues for the member of the Senate or Congress for whom they work. But I admit, we always get a few goosebumps when we get to meet with the Senator or member of Congress in person!
This year, in addition to the other wonderful professionals in my group, I attended with researcher Mike Gass, Ph.D., LMFT from the University of NH who has been instrumental in collating and sharing information that reveals how effective these programs truly are (One dramatic example: For every $1 spent in a NATSAP program, an individual can save the average $9 spent for later mental health and addictions services). I was also in the company of one of our graduates, Karsen, and her mother and brother. She was very excited to share her story with those who make decisions that directly affect individuals and families in crisis. She saw this as a special opportunity to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves, for those who need help, and for those who did not make it. She acknowledged herself as having needed support to face her challenges, and she expressed gratitude for the help she received. She is completing her Bachelor’s in Social Work and wants to continue her education to receive a Master’s with the ultimate goal to give back to others. We cannot express enough how happy we are for her success, but also how grateful we are to her for her decision to join us in helping others.
I will add that among those aides and counselors we met with, Rep. John Faso (NY), Sen. Tim Scott (SC), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) also graciously met with us in person. They listened with great respect to Karsen’s story, as well as to those stories of our other family members in attendance. They thanked the professionals for their support and work in this field. We felt fortunate that our voices can be heard in the halls of Congress and the Senate of our country, and that there is always hope, even though it requires a great deal of hard work.
It takes courage to step up, to say I have been on the other side of this crisis and here I am to let you know I made it—but that I also know not everyone will be as fortunate as I have been. It takes humility to speak out and say that this story is not about me—it is about all of us as human beings and as citizens of the world. And it takes respect on all sides to listen and to be willing to learn from each other how we can take steps forward to help those who are struggling as well as to help those who cannot afford to access needed support.