A Statement on the Death of Irvo Otieno and A Call For Change

As our region and nation grapple with another tragic loss of the life of someone experiencing a mental health crisis, we are collectively called to a deeper awareness of the flaws in our systems and the need to create positive change in how we, as a society, respond to mental health needs. 

The death of Irvo Otieno at the hands of law enforcement and state mental hospital employees is a chilling reminder that change is needed.  Although we are only aware of what has been reported by media, this incident leads us to reflect on how we as an organization can assist in producing positive change. 

First, there must be an awareness that racial inequities exist and bias the way our systems respond to those of marginalized groups.  Second, there must be agreement that mental health care is a necessity and should be available to everyone.  Finally, access and cost should be factors that are weighed in creating system change to benefit the entire community. 

Since its inception, Robin’s Hope has sought to offer innovative change in the provision of mental health services.  First, we have sought to eliminate cost as a barrier to care.  We offer peer-led groups and individual peer support at no cost to those that utilize these services.  These services are available to any adult, without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, or any other criteria that might create a barrier to care.  In addition, individual counseling services are available through our counseling program Inner Touch, where services are provided on a donation basis.  In addition, the use of in person and virtual offerings for our services allows for services to be accessed by more people in the format they prefer.  Through these efforts, Robin’s Hope seeks to influence positive change in the mental health field. 

We are also, as an organization, working to confront our own biases, to improve our services to marginalized populations, and to educate ourselves and our members on best practices to increase feelings of safety and further healing for those that seek services here.  We acknowledge that this is an ongoing process and that our humanity means that there will be bumps along the journey forward.  We are, however, committed to the process. 

On a system level, Robin’s Hope is saddened and sickened at the repeated tragedies that have occurred in our local area in addressing mental health needs.  Although some changes are starting to be explored and implemented at a state level, these continued preventable deaths show us the need for more.  What, though?  What is the answer to the larger problem?  This, unfortunately points to a wider need for individual healing of our citizens.  Hurt people hurt people.  Policies and procedures can minimize this risk and should be explored, but at its core, unless we all look at our biases, we will act from them. 

In a world that has become deeply divided, we are more and more living in and operating from fear.  This causes all manner of tragic behavior.  We must, instead, foster community.  Creating safe spaces where we can learn from and celebrate the differences of others.  Drawing together, we can collaborate and innovate, to find better answers to systemic problems.  By making services accessible and affordable, we can intervene early; thus preventing extreme crisis which requires the use of force.  Better training regarding mental health issues so that understanding replaces fear, so that those called to respond have avenues to do so. 

Currently, our mental health services in VA are in crisis – we have more clinicians leaving the field than those being trained to enter it.  We are facing a 300% increase in those seeking services after COVID.  Things need to change.  Accessing care is confusing and overwhelming to those already struggling.  Loved ones are limited in how they can help and feel disempowered in their efforts to do so.  Education, advocacy, and community conversations can help in these areas.  These are things Robin’s Hope has done in a limited capacity and would like to expand as we move forward in our growth. 

There is hope. Education, advocacy, and community conversations can help us meet the growing need for mental health care. There is growth in the recognition of peer services and the importance of people having autonomy in their own care. There is a greater acceptance that there are many pathways to recovery. There is a growing understanding that though “hurt people hurt people” it is also true that “healing people heal people.” We see the importance of the inclusion of peers, who are in recovery themselves, working alongside clinicians to better resonate and empower those beginning their recovery journey.  

To learn more about Robin’s Hope or to join our efforts, please contact us, join our groups, make a donation, or volunteer with our initiatives.  Change takes all of us, working together for a better world.  What will you do? 

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