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Consumers’ mental health nonprofit begins membership drive in Juneau

Copy of Article from KTOO Public Media

Consumers’ mental health nonprofit begins membership drive in Juneau

By Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO October 29, 2016


Wade Rathke poses for a photo outside KTOO, Oct. 11, 2016. Rathke is an activist who founded ACORN and is president of the board of the Juneau-based Mental Health Consumer Action Network. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

A fledgling Juneau nonprofit formed to advocate for mental health consumers began a membership drive and door-knocking campaign this weekend.

Mental Health Consumer Action Network founder Greg Fitch said this follows the organization’s first official board meeting earlier this month, and getting MCAN’s charitable tax status and other organizational business in order.

MCAN’s new board president Wade Rathke has decades of experience with the once-infamous organization ACORN International, which he founded in 1970. The progressive group has had its scandals, some real, some bogus, but that’s old news now. Rathke still works with many nonprofits and lives in New Orleans — he’d worked with Fitch at ACORN there in the ’90s — but was recently in Juneau for the first board meeting and discussed his role and aspirations for the new organization.

Rathke said he hasn’t had mental health issues himself, but, “I think it’s important that people build an organization to give them voice and to allow them to empower themselves around their own grievances and issues to be able (to) act. Mental health consumers over the last, you know, 50 years … are people who’ve been marginalized without a voice in many cases.”

He said organizing the marginalized is exactly what he’s spent his life doing.

“Part of what’s so true about mental health issues, people see it as personal, their own private concern,” he said. “And don’t realize there are other people who are struggling in some cases with the same thing who they could unite with and not only find support but collective cause.”

For a long time, he said society has treated people with mental health issues like a “crazy aunt in the closet.”

“And that’s not appropriate,” he said. “And to have people increasingly willing to talk about issues they’ve faced, how they’ve met those challenges, and how they could have met those challenges in a better way both for themselves and our whole society is a radical new thing, and that’s why I think it’s so exciting to see what MCAN is going to be.”

Rathke said he expects challenges recruiting potential members, who may perceive risk in outing themselves as mental health consumers. But, he’s optimistic.

In a year’s time, Rathke said he’d like to see MCAN with a stable membership in Juneau and possibly start expanding to Fairbanks and Anchorage.