An informed peer perspective on the closing of Valle del Sol in Taos, New Mexico

This is a response to an article in The Taos News by John Miller:

Valle del Sol in Taos set to close at month’s end

Specifically, I wanted to respond to an online comment by concerned community stakeholderĀ Linda Carol Nicholas:

Please consider the children at Enos Garcia and the families in the neighborhood.

To begin, let me share – from personal knowledge – there are parents with children at Enos Garcia who’ve received services at Valle del Sol. These are children and families of the Enos Garcia community with vested interest in both facilities.

That said, I’m curious what “Please consider the children at Enos Garcia and the families in the neighborhood” entails. As I read this, having quality behavioral health services available to the children and families is the primary consideration. However, I feel “consideration” has a more sinister implication based on behavioral health stigmatization. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Many of these stigmas are rooted in the misconception those in need of behavioral health services are inherently violent or a poorly defined “dangerous threat.” Numerous studies have shown those in need of behavioral health services are at greater risk of being the victim of violent crime than the perpetrator of violent crime.

In considering the children, we have an opportunity to educate our children in mental health BEFORE there is a downward slide into bias and prejudice. And in considering the children, are you aware many common mental health issues begin manifesting in pre-teens and early teens, such as bipolar in girls? Shall we move these children to the shuttered detox center on Weimer Road? Is this an empathetic and healthy consideration?

As president of the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance Albuquerque chapter, former peer member of the DOJ mandated MHRAC (Albuquerque Police Department commutiny advisory board), former peer member of BCFIC (community stakeholders dedicated to jail diversion to services instead), former NAMI Albuquerque board member, and recipient of the 2017 Innovation in Behavioral Health Lifetime Achievement Award from the State of New Mexico, I’ve come to understand peers with mental health needs are no more and no less deserving of respect, kindness, and understanding as anyone else . . . because peers are any one and every one of us.

To me, rather than move an established behavioral health services facility, we as a very inclusive and diverse community have the opportunity to teach our children and families, promoting informed acceptance rather than fearful stigmas.

By the by, I am a father, son, and friend with bipolar, something some can infer by the type of articles, comments, and letters to the editor I compose. And by way of illumination, with my peer partners, we have launched a new peer education service dedicated to helping those in our communities by having peers share openly about their life experiences living with a mental health diagnosis. It’s the same variety of education program I helped develop for the Albuquerque Police Department, where law enforcement learn we are not our symptoms and we are open to collaboration with police even when in mental health crisis. We do this through sharing our stories of law enforcement interactions, helping law enforcement know what works, what doesn’t work, and what needs improvement with the goal of de-escalation rather than incarceration. And it’s working.

Stand Up To Stigma (our peer-created, peer-managed, and peer-presented organization) offers our education programs free to the community. We’d very much appreciate travelling to Taos to share our experiences for better understanding through education. And we can even bring our trained peers from Taos, people with mental health needs . . . who you might not have known are part of your community.

Did you know: The etymology of “sinister” relates to individuals who are left-handed. At one time, those with left-handedness were considered dangerous and ungodly. Interesting what we used to be afraid of, isn’t it?

Best of mental health to you,

Steve Bringe
CEO, Stand Up To Stigma
President, DBSA Albuquerque