BY ADELLE LaBRECQUE
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
Unfortunately, clients of our mental health system often feel a sense of powerlessness as a “consumer” of services.
The Mental Health Consumer Action Network (MCAN), is a local non-profit organization that advocates for various improvements within the mental health system, by placing a large focus on individuals “having a collective voice.” MCAN enables clients to speak openly about mental illness and works hard to establish stronger relationships within the mental health network at large.
In an interview on March 12 with Gregory Fitch, founder and executive director of MCAN, Fitch said that in just eight months, the non-profit has grown “from the ground up,” rapidly spreading throughout Alaska. Their slogan, “Stand With Us, So We Can Stand On Our Own” echoes the efforts of the individuals involved.
“We are dedicated to improving the lives of the mental health community, through peer to peer advocacy as well as our resource network. Our goal is to organize the mental health community consolidating their voices, unifying them to inspire real change,” states the non-profit’s official webpage.
Fitch was originally inspired to create the non-profit organization due to his own experience with the mental health system, and spoke openly about his own 15 year struggle with mental illness.
“I was tired of the consumer not having a voice,” Fitch said.
He found that clients within the mental health community had no collective voice, and is therefore currently working to grow and support the over 106,000 Alaskans struggling with mental illness.
Fitch advocates that individuals can overcome mental illness with the right resources and support available:
“The model behind MCAN is the one I’ve taken from ACORN, which is Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. They are an organization in the United States with over 500,000 members and 36 cities throughout the country. It was founded by Wade Rathke in 1970 in Little Rock, Arkansas. I took the idea because I was worked for ACORN as an organizer in New Orleans, we’d use their model, where we’d work with low-income to moderate-income citizens throughout the country to create social justice and change.”
During Fitch’s experience with ACORN, he witnessed the ACORN Model’s success and was inspired to create change within the mental health system.
“I thought, why not make that work for mental health clients? We’re not organized, we don’t have a voice. We need to come together as people, so we can collectively advocate for ourselves and have a presence, help to end stigma, and be a group,” Fitch said.
“MCAN is not ACORN. We are affiliated with ACORN, but we are our own group,” Fitch noted, citing MCAN’s need to continue growing.
As MCAN continues to grow throughout Alaska, they plan to keep partnering and merging with other mental health agencies and non-profits. Their goal is to reach 20,000 clients statewide, prove that they can be successful statewide first, then look to partner with others nationally. Once MCAN reaches its goal, they want to keep branching nationwide.
Additionally, MCAN has also been a presence in the Capital Building “with great response,” Fitch said.
On April 27, MCAN will be holding a community fundraiser to celebrate the non-profit’s first anniversary.
The event will be held at The JACC at 6 p.m., where SALT will be catering. Tickets are currently on sale for $35.
Wade Rathke, Founder and Chief Organizer of ACORN International will be a guest speaker.
For more information on MCAN, visit MCANalaska.org, facebook.com/MCANALASKA, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (907) 500-9059 or (907) 419-7101.