TROY, Ala. – As someone who has recovered from a mental illness, Joel Slack knows the value of respect.
Slack, an international consultant and trainer in the field of mental health, urged students gathered in the Claudia Crosby Theater for the 14th annual Helen Keller Lecture at Troy University on Thursday to look past stigmas and stereotypes attached to victims of mental illness.
“We must train ourselves to look at the whole person,” Slack said. “I encourage you to look past the stigmas attached to someone with a mental illness and to see the strengths and potential that lay within.”
Slack suffered a mental breakdown while in college and was institutionalized due to schizophrenia. Following his recovery, Slack began to speak of his experience with mental illness, which led to opportunities to share his perspective with various mental health agencies.
“In the early 1990s, there was a movement within the mental health field to gain the perspective of those suffering from mental illness in order to better serve their needs,” Slack said, noting that the State of Alabama was on the leading edge with the formation of the Office of Consumer Relations within the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. “Prior to that time, mental health treatment had been designed and developed by professionals in the field.”
Slack served as director of the fledgling office in Alabama, which opened new doors for him to consult with other states and eventually other countries on the treatment of the mentally ill. In response to what he was seeing on his travels throughout the world, Slack formed Respect International, an advocacy, humanitarian and educational non-profit organization created out of the need of persons with psychiatric challenges to be treated with respect, to experience hope and to be provided with the basic necessities of life.
Slack said respect must be at the forefront of any treatment offered to those with mental illnesses.
“Every six years or so a new model for treatment will emerge,” Slack said. “You can spend all of your time focusing on this new treatment, but you compromise all of the technology if you do not have respect at the foundation of all you do. Respect activates the resiliency within every human being.”
The Helen Keller Lecture is designed to promote awareness of people who excel in their chosen fields despite physical and/or mental limitations. The lecture was sponsored by Troy University, the Alabama State Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, The Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education, the Alabama State Department of Education, the Alabama State Department of Rehabilitation Services and the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind.