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Ending Mental Illness Discrimination in Dispute Resolution and Beyond: Some 2023 Updates

Mental Health Conference


Since 2021, MH Mediate’s Mental Health Safe Project (MH Safe) has been providing resources for addressing stereotypes, stigma, and discrimination related to mental illness.  Mediate.com has been a major supporter of efforts to put an end to archaic practices that discriminate against people who live with mental health problems, like my bipolar disorder.  Similar to the example set by Colin Rule’s 2022 “Confronting Stigma Around Mental Illness in Mediation” article, and Mediate.com’s subsequent 2022 Mental Health Conference, many other prominent organizations are making important changes to policies, procedures, and practices.  The following are a few recent examples of organizations taking steps forward:

  • Michigan Courts Stop Screening Mental Illnesses as Safety Risks and “Impediments”
    In October 2023, the Michigan State Court Administrative Office removed provisions from its Mediator Standards of Conduct and a domestic relations screening protocol so mental illness was no longer listed as an impediment or safety risk, and no longer asked about in screening.  These changes were made in less than three weeks once the problems were brought to SCAO’s attention, and the State Bar of Michigan publicized the updates by stressing that these changes were to be in better compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which makes it illegal to screen people based on their psychiatric disabilities.  MH Safe is providing free access to trainings to teach Michigan dispute resolution professionals who learned inadvertently harmful practices over the past decade ways to correct the stigma and misunderstandings.  Michigan stakeholders who want to access these programs can e-mail [email protected] for the link.
  • Harvard’s Difficult Conversation Gurus Pursuing Updates to Content Calling People with Mental Health Problems “Genuinely Difficult”
    In October 2023, the authors of the prominent Harvard “Difficult Conversations” book reviewed recommendations they update the book to correct mistaken wording that inadvertently called people with specific mental disorders “difficult people.” They shared they are considering updates to the book, checking to see what their publisher allows.  MH Safe has also prepared materials for professors and others who use this book so students can understand why this is a problem and learn about empowering ways to talk about mental health.  One professor wrote “We are so grateful that you have put all of this together. We plan to include your sample notice and link along with the Q&A section from the book in our assigned materials. Your materials make us feel like we can ethically engage with that section – which then opens up that learning.”  Visit www.mhsafe.org/DifficultConversations to access these materials.
  • The American Bar Association Begins Evolving Beyond “High Conflict” Labels for Mental Health Problems
    In September 2023, the American Bar Association removed some content that labeled parties as “high conflict people” or “high conflict personalities” and targeted them for different treatment based on the speculation that they have mental disorder symptoms.  A podcast episode that suggested people wound up with these disorders because the “angel” did not solder the “empathy circuit” properly when the person was a fetus was removed. Additionally, an Advanced Mediation Skills and Advocacy Institute program that had focused on guessing who might have “high conflict” mental illness symptoms was retitled and reshaped to no longer include this kind of content. MH Safe is continuing to work with the ABA to provide feedback for further possible updates, and to address the impact of this kind of guidance on the general climate for people living with mental health problems.  To learn more about these kinds of proxy labels, and resources on how parties can respond to this kind of profiling, visit www.mhsafe.org/Toxic.

In addition, new tools have been developed to help people prevent discrimination, vet guidance, and speak up about problems:

  • Trauma-Informed and Bias-Resistant Resources Were Funded by The American Arbitration Association – International Centre for Dispute Resolution Foundation In September 2023, the CUNY Dispute Resolution Center and MH Mediate launched BiasResistantCourts.org, providing courts around the country (and all professionals) with user-friendly resources teaching twelve key skills on how to create trauma-informed and bias-resistant environments and practices.  Visit www.biasresistantcourts.org to access these free tools.
  • Dispute Resolution Instructors Receive Resources to Vet Potentially Problematic Guidance
    In November 2023, resources were sent to dispute resolution instructors to assist them in accessing free syllabus reviews.  The resources will help them identify problematic content, along with providing them classroom exercises and tools for vetting dispute resolution law journal articles, CLE programs, and other materials in order to ensure there are no problems.  To access these resources, visit www.mhsafe.org/DRGuidance.
  • Resources to Help People With Mental Illnesses Speak Up
    In October 2023, the Mental Health Safe Project presented the latest resources to help people living with mental health problems speak up when they encounter mental illness stigma and discrimination at the Maryland conference for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  This builds on prior work which shared similar conflict-resolution-based self-advocacy tools with state chapters around the country.  Visit www.mhsafe.org/about to view a replay of one of the “Conflict Resolution Skills for Self Advocacy” programs and access more resources.  MH Mediate is also launching a mental health empowerment coaching program to help people with mental illnesses seek support from dispute resolvers as they navigate conflicts situations where they are seeking reasonable accommodations.


This debiasing and anti-discrimination work is still ongoing.  As shame and stigma surrounding mental illness are being reduced, more and more people are able to speak up about problems that have gone unaddressed in a variety of different contexts for years.  This has led to important changes such as an increase in Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims based on mental health problems, as documented by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in addition to the other recent changes noted in this article.  

Anyone interested in helping to further this work can get involved in the Mental Health Safe Project by visiting www.mhsafe.org/contact/

                        author

Dan Berstein

Dan Berstein, MHS is a mediator and trainer known for his work in mental health communication, accessibility, and challenging behaviors. Through his company MH Mediate, Dan provides tools, trainings, and resources to help all kinds of mental health stakeholders talk about mental health, resolve conflicts, and address challenging behaviors in… MORE >

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