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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

Last Updated: 6/5/2013

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)


VOCAL: Virginians Co-create Truly Healing Mental Healthcare System

VOCAL Promoting Mental Wellness in Virginia

VOCAL, Inc., Virginia’s statewide organization for people in mental health recovery is launching our tenth anniversary year. In 2010, we held our largest conference ever, in Northern Virginia, which close to 400 members attended. We’ve established VOCAL Representatives to help communicate about recovery issues throughout the state, and our membership has increased by 32 percent. We have helped those living in mental health recovery network with one another and advocate on their own behalf like never before!

Here are some stunning numbers from 2010:

  • Our website has had 11,152 visitors this past year (average 30 hits a day)
  • There are now 35 programs as part of the CO-OP (Consumer Owned and Operated Programs) network
  • We now have trained a total of 130 WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) facilitators across the state
  • 425 people were graduated with a WRAP plan, giving them the tools to prevent a major mental-health crisis
  • 1,300 copies of Firewalkers: Madness, Beauty & Mystery are now in circulation
  • Our Facebook page has 223 “fans,” who help introduce many more people to the idea of recovery
  • VOCAL received 97 contributions from 71 individuals

As part of our Network survey, we discovered that the number one issue our members want to work on is the stigma of mental illness. In 2010, VOCAL addressed that in many ways—we had over a dozen Firewalker presentations where we spoke openly and honestly about the emotional turbulence some of us have faced, overcome, and which has helped us grow as human beings. Media coverage in the newspaper and on NPR has helped further our message. When we speak out, others will, too.

VOCAL extends our deep gratitude to SAMHSA’s ADS Center and Mental Health America’s National Consumer Supporter Technical Assistance Center who were leading investors fueling the production of the Firewalkers publication. Firewalkers: Madness, Beauty & Mystery continues to flourish. Thirteen hundred copies have travelled from our offices and into schools, homes, hospitals, and prisons. It is required reading for three college classes (that we know of) and has been used in wellness groups across the state. The Firewalkers storytellers have been asked to speak at consumer conferences, staff trainings, on the radio, in college classrooms, and festivals. We have received enough money to fund the project another year. Most of this money has come from the Charlottesville area, enabling us to host dynamic community events and collaborate with other groups. Firewalkers has also been funded to create audiovisual slideshows, “story capsules” that tell honest stories of who we are. We have dreams of starting a magazine, continuing public talks, and creating a curriculum to be used on campuses.

The reception to the message of Firewalkers has been so positive everywhere we go. We hear people saying things like, “With nearly 30 years in the mental health field, I have never read a book that was so honest and real” and “Firewalkers should be read by all people struggling to recover in a very imperfect mental health system and society. And it should be read by the professionals who assist them.” It seems people were hungry for this message of hope.

VOCAL Comedy Group

Four people from VOCAL were trained by comedian David Granier to effectively use stand-up humor to address their mental health issues. Granier is the founder of "Stand Up For Mental Health" and was the keynote speaker at our 2010 conference.

As another stigma-busting initiative, a professional stand-up comedian, David Granier, taught VOCAL members how to speak with humor about their challenges at the 2010 conference. It was empowering to see so many folks who have struggled with mental illness stand up in front of a crowd and deal with their issues with a twist of humor. Laughter is great medicine.

Charlottesville, Virginia, where we have our headquarters, has a plethora of graphic designers and we have an annual “Design Marathon” where professionals donate a day’s worth of work to nonprofits. VOCAL recently won the opportunity to participate in this and create materials that advertised our programs using the words and images most appropriate to those of us in recovery.

Our 10-year anniversary is a great time to take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re going. It’s time to look at what’s working well, and where we need to improve. We’ll be having our official anniversary celebration at our annual conference in May in Radford, Virginia.

We have begun a strong push, gathering funding for database evaluation tools and Peer Run Program leadership development, in order to measure the efforts and outcomes of our peer-run mental health and substance abuse recovery programs. VOCAL believes that “We change lives and we can prove it” by acquiring data on our efforts at recovery and looking at the outcomes of those efforts. We know that peer-run programs are the most cost-effective and immediately available way of reaching people experiencing a mental health or addiction crisis. The life expectancy of someone with severe mental health challenges in the public mental health system is 25 years less than the average American. By measuring efforts and outcomes of peer-run programs, VOCAL and Virginia’s leading peer-run programs will prove how peer-run programs change lives and increase life expectancy.

By measuring the Efforts staff and program participants make, and the Outcomes realized, we can help people discover the quickest path to recovery and wellness. VOCAL will be establishing best practices for dealing with the mental health and addiction challenges of our communities.

For the first time ever, we will acquire a large volume of information—statistically reliable data—that can be used to determine the effectiveness of different methods of engagement. This will enable providers and those experiencing mental health challenges to spend their resources on proven programs.

Between our membership roster, the number of individuals who complete a WRAP plan led by a VOCAL facilitator, and the number of people who participate in our CO-OP programs, we easily touch 10,000 lives per year. And while we don’t actively lobby our state legislature, our advocacy efforts have an impact on anyone who comes in contact with Virginia’s public mental health system.

There’s still so much more we need to do. Many people have not even heard about the idea of recovery from mental illness, and need the HOPE we have to offer. This year, VOCAL will be conducting “mini-workshops” across the state introducing and facilitating the use of wellness tools to community centers, churches, and clubhouses.

In early 2011, VOCAL was awarded a capacity-building grant from a private funder so that we may work on raising non-governmental funds to increase our programming. VOCAL has done extensive work on “Funding the Recovery & Wellness Movement” and hopes that one day individual giving to mental health issues will be as commonplace as giving to any other health cause.

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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.