Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds was the keynote luncheon speaker at Claritycon2015 in San Antonio, Texas on June 18, 2015.
Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds reminds us that from biblical times to the present, people have experienced painful, and sometimes even tragic, events in their lives. And as agonizing as these events are, they also can lead to change and hope for others.
Deeds opened his luncheon keynote address at Claritycon2015 with one of his favorite bible stories – a story from the Book of Esther about a courageous young woman who risked her life to save her people.
“Each one of us has to be open to the notion that some circumstance of our lives – something we don’t want or are not looking for – might give us an opportunity to make a real difference in someone’s life.”
In November 2013, Deeds was attacked and stabbed by his mentally ill son, who then ended his own life. Days prior to the incident, Deeds tried to get his son help at a mental health facility, but they were unable to find an open hospital bed in the area.
Since the incident, he has worked to improve Virginia’s mental health system.
“As a legislator, I didn’t understand the full scope of the problem until the system failed my family,” Deeds said.
Now he sees unmet needs all over the country and believes urgent action and follow-through is needed.
“After a crisis, people respond. They think they fix it, and then they move on,” Deeds said. “But with every passing day, the sense of urgency diminishes. The opportunity for real change is lost.”
Deeds referenced the de-institutionalizing of mental health hospitals in the 1950s. He said that the policy change was not necessarily wrong, but that it started new problems. Additional policy decisions were not implemented to support it, and the urgency was allowed to diminish.
“We can’t let that happen this time,” he said.
“Our time is limited. For some families the time is gone,” Deeds continued.
Deeds shared another story about a 10-year-old boy who was released from a mental hospital before his parents felt he was ready to safely re-enter their home. Hospital officials threatened to charge the family with child neglect if they did not allow the son’s release and come to pick him up.
“This is what worries me most,” said Deeds. “If the system can’t help a child at 10, where is this child going to be when he gets older?”
Because the system is so crisis driven, Deeds continued, many families live crisis to crisis because they can’t get the stable, consistent care that they desperately need. His goal is to reduce the amount of crises by ramping up mental health services and support for younger ages.
Deeds believes that with appropriate treatment, support and understanding, mental illness can be managed.
“Many of you have your own stories,” he said. “My dedication to effecting change is emboldened with every new story I read in the paper, with every new phone call that comes into my office, and with every new letter or email that comes across my desk,” said Deeds. “And visiting places like Clarity this morning gives me hope that solutions and answers are within our reach.”
“We need to treat diseases of the mind like we treat diseases of the body. There is no shame in mental illness,” he said. “We have to get the stigma down.”
Please watch Senator Deeds’ entire Claritycon2015 speech online.