PEERS hosts 450 for second international WRAP Around the World Conference

February 6, 2013
Written by Shannon Eliot

More than 450 people across the globe gathered to exchange views on WRAP and meet leaders in the mental health field at the WRAP Around the World Conference in Oakland from January 27-29, 2013. Held over the course of three days, the conference featured more than 70 workshops and keynote addresses by industry leaders on what the future of the mental health field holds and how WRAP will fit into the new health care paradigm.

WRAP, or Wellness Recovery Action Planning, is an evidence-based practice used worldwide by people who are dealing with mental or general health challenges and by those who want to attain the highest possible level of wellness.

Sponsored by the Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery and hosted by PEERS, the conference is designed to foster global networking and solidarity that is critical to changing a mental health system that is reaching too few people with the message of recovery, according to Matthew Federici, Executive Director of the Copeland Center.

"This international conference is our time as a global community of peers to experience an ever-growing body of knowledge and peer support," Federici said. "As a values-based community, we are poised to explore progressive alternatives and experience significant changes through intentional support of each other's wellness lifestyles."

While WRAP has been practiced and praised by consumers since its release, it has the potential to expand with the implementation of health care reform, providing that consumers share their voice, according to Paolo del Vecchio, Director of the SAMHSA Center for Mental Health Services.

"There is a push for integrated care and a need for holistic recovery-based approaches," del Vecchio said. "We can't just address mental health issues; we need to address our whole lives. [Mental health consumers] have an early mortality rate, and sometimes die earlier from the medications that are given to us. We need to integrate WRAP into primary care settings."

Del Vecchio recalls that one of the first projects in which he was involved at SAMHSA was arranging a small contract with WRAP author Mary Ellen Copeland to develop a series of 10 booklets that shared the WRAP tenets and were free for anyone to use. The pamphlets were some of best sellers of any product that SAMHSA has ever produced, according to del Vecchio.

"It's been such a beautiful thing to watch WRAP grow and grow across the country and across the world," del Vecchio said. "People have a thirst for this kind of information — to get well and find the steps for their own wellness, freedom, sense of hope, and sense of community."

Robert Whitaker, author of the books Mad in America and Anatomy of an Epidemic that take a critical look at the psychiatric pharmaceutical industry and the growth of the medical model in the 1980s, praised conference attendees for trying to make a better future for those who utilize mental health services.

"I wrote Mad in America about 10 years ago and there's been a lot of change since then," Whitaker said. "And if you look around society and look at one of the most prominent forces for change, it is the WRAP program. It is changing how we think about mental health. It's changing how we thing about what is possible. You all are fighting for a different future than what we have today and what mental health is all about."

Copeland echoed Whitaker's sentiments about the potential for mental health reform and the spread of the recovery model in the future.

"WRAP continues to spread each and every day," Copeland said. "WRAP has done what we have been told over and over could not be done. They said that no one could ever recover from what they call 'mental illness.' We have shown them that not true. We have shown them that we can and do recover. We have shown them that we can and do go on to do the things we want to do with our lives."

However, Copeland says, the journey into the future will not be without its challenges and potential pitfalls.

"At one end of the pendulum, the recovery movement is moving forward," Copeland said. "More and more people are using WRAP and recovery is becoming possible for more people. But we also need to be mindful that the pendulum could once again swing in the opposite direction and we could find ourselves enmeshed in a regressive, repressive, and punitive system that shackles people for life and too often takes their life. And right now, as we gather to celebrate our achievements and figure out how to continue to move forward, momentum is building to give that pendulum a big push in the wrong direction."

The three things driving that push, according to Copeland, are psychiatric profiling in light of Sandy Hook, human rights violations rampant in the mental health system, and the continuing efforts to wrongly convince people that harmful medications and treatments are the answers to mental health issues.

Like del Vechhio, Copeland stressed the importance of consumer involvement in preventing the negative pendulum swing.

"Each of you will respond in whatever way you can," Copeland said. "Some of you will speak out loudly and become activists, and others will show the way by supporting their peers and taking care of themselves. There is no right or wrong way. Only you can decide which path to take."