Moving My Experience Forward to Make Change

By Kim Lutes, MHAM Volunteer and Hennepin County LAC Member

I first heard about the Hennepin County Mental Health Advisory Council in an announcement in our local newspaper. My mom happened by it and clipped it out to give to me. She knew that I was trying to find meaning in my decades long struggle with mental illness. She thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me to use my experiences to help others by sharing my experiences and advocating for individuals living with a mental illness. I decided to go for it.

Each county in the state of Minnesota has the opportunity to form a mental health advisory council, sometimes referred to as a Local Advisory Council, or LAC. The purpose of a local advisory council is to advise county commissioners on issues of concern regarding the way mental health services are delivered in the county. The Hennepin County advisory council, which meets in the lower level of the Hosmer Library in Minneapolis, is composed of: six individuals receiving mental health services, six mental health care providers, six family members of individuals receiving services, two community advocates, and three representatives of underserved communities. Each member of the council brings his or her unique perspectives on issues discussed at meetings.

Members of the council are appointed by the county commissioners. I found the process intimidating, but rewarding. The first step was to complete an application. Once the application was reviewed, I got a call from the commissioner’s office to set up an appointment to go before the commissioners to be interviewed. This was the scary part. I had purchased a suit from a thrift shop, and arrived, looking like a professional. When my name was called, I had to stand at a podium and testify before the full council, the reasons why I would be a valuable member of the mental health advisory council- in three minutes.

One of the symptoms related to my mental illness is severe anxiety, which sometimes leads to full-blown panic. Needless to say, my anxiety went sky high. But, my desire to become a member of the council took over, and I was able to stand at the podium and tell the commissioners that I lived with a mental illness, I had used a lot of services provided by the county and that my experiences would make me an asset to the council. That was all I needed to say. My voice quivered the whole time, and sweat was dripping down on my power suit, but I did it!

When I was finished with my testimony, I took the elevator to the first floor. I needed to walk across the courtyard to get to my car. As I was walking, I looked up at the glass windows twenty-four stories above me, and remembered the last time I had taken this walk. It was the day, six years earlier, when I was going through the civil commitment process. I remember wearing an oversized sweatshirt, and jeans I had to hold up because I had lost a lot of weight and they kept slipping down. But, six years later, I stood in the courtyard in a power suit, having just testified before the Hennepin County commissioners, asking to be appointed to the Hennepin County Mental Health Advisory Council.

A couple of weeks after I went through the application process, I received a letter from the commissioner’s office saying that they had appointed me to a three year term on the council.