Campus News

Symposium examines state’s history of mental health reform, advocacy

A symposium at UGA will feature discussion about the history of mental health advocacy in Georgia, the impact of systemic, legal and legislative reforms, and a look at what recent events may mean for those living with mental illness.

“The History of Mental Illnesses in Georgia: Moving Away from a Difficult Past” will be held Oct. 19 from 1-4 p.m. at UGA’s Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries. Open free to the public (registration required), the symposium will be followed by a reception.

The second annual event is co-sponsored by UGA’s Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies and the Institute on Human Development and Disability. It is an initiative of the Georgia Disability History Alliance, a group of advocates, organizational leaders, archivists, researchers and others dedicated to preserving and protecting the state’s disability history.

Kim E. Nielsen, professor of disability studies, history and women’s and gender studies at the University of Toledo, will be the keynote speaker. The author of A Disability History of the United States, Nielsen will provide historical context for how individuals with mental illnesses were treated in the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“In thinking about a theme for this year’s symposium, the alliance wanted to present an issue that is often overlooked in the context of disability history,” said Mat Darby, archivist and curator of the Georgia Disability History Archive, housed at the Russell Library. “The history of mental health in this state seemed like an important, and timely, subject.”

Cynthia Wainscott, a former member of the National Council on Disability, and Ellyn Jeager of the Advocacy Connection will moderate two panel discussions, “Catalyst for System Reform in Georgia’s Recent History” and “Looking Ahead: Mental Health Advocacy and Support.”

“In earlier times, people with mental illnesses were often institutionalized, but that is no longer necessary. Recovery is now possible,” said Wainscott.

The key, she said, is getting access to the services and supports they need. Over the past several decades, changes in Georgia’s public mental health system have helped, with recovery now a stated goal; the state’s Peer Support, Wellness and Respite Centers are helping people stay well.

“People with even the most severe disorders can and do live happy, productive lives in their communities,” Wainscott said.

The panel discussions will outline this history of change and reform and highlight recent successes. Panelists include Sue Jamieson, lead attorney for the landmark case, L.C. v. Olmstead; Stan Jones, a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough; Mark Baker, former director in the Office of Recovery Transformation at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities; Talley Wells, Atlanta Legal Aid; Yaasmeen Rhett-Nyjah, founder of Kids Like Moses Inc.; Cheryl Holt, former director of Integrated Healthcare, Cobb Community Service Board; Georgia Rep. Pat Gardner; Georgia Rep. Katie Dempsey; Jen Banathy, Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network; and a speaker from Georgia’s RESPECT Institute.

An exhibit highlighting documents, photographs and memorabilia related to mental health history from the archive and works by Jerome Lawrence, an artist who uses painting as a therapeutic tool in his mental health recovery, will be on display.

For more information, contact Mat Darby at or 706-542-0627.