By Ron Jaeger, GPS Board MemberRon Jeager

The 18th annual King County Mental Health and Substance Abuse Legislative Forum took place on November 13th in Seattle.  This year, more than ever, there was a lot to be thankful for.  Seattle Mayor Ed Murray noted at the outset that he had never seen a crowd this big at previous forums.  Every seat in the house appeared to be taken.

Why was this event so significant?  We each have the right and responsibility to influence decisions about policies that influence our lives.  What happens to people who struggle with mental illness, what happens to people who struggle with addiction affects all of us!   I ask you to join me in collaborating with our legislative delegation to make sure that we begin to restore the cuts in mental health and substance abuse program funding that we’ve seen over the years at the Federal and other levels of government.

Forum moderator Neil Scott, producer and host of Recovery Coast to Coast Radio, encouraged members of the audience to “Think of someone right now who is in need of mental health or addiction services — someone you know. Perhaps someone you love. They are the real reason we are here tonight” Scott said, “Good treatment doesn’t cost.  It pays.  If you don’t provide the money now, you’ll pay many times over in consequential costs including incarceration and death.”

Penny LeGate, the first host of KING 5 television’s Evening Magazine and a well know television reporter/producer, is an outspoken advocate of treatment and recovery. She shared the story of her beloved daughter, Marah, who succumbed to heroin addiction in 2012.

“I want the message to be from my daughter, Marah,” LeGate said. “I am here to tell you that drug abuse and addiction can happen in any family”. She went on to share her wonderful memories of her young daughter as a happy, vivacious, smart child with a wonder personality – a ballet dancer, accomplished softball pitcher, and helpful traveling partner on documentary journeys to other countries where she was a huge hit with people in the villages.  “But she always was pensive. She was the type of child that was a little hard to figure out.  She was complex.  Mental illness certainly contributed to Marah’s struggles.  She’s a child who struggled with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and eating disorders.”

LeGate described the family’s struggles as Marah began spiraling downward in her sophomore year in high school. “We knew she’d go on the lam.  We couldn’t commit her to treatment because the age of consent in this (WA) State is 13…….Really??  That means a 13 year old child can walk away from treatment without their parents’ consent.  And it’s my personal opinion that we need to change that.  We need to change that!”

King County parents were invited to join forces to advocate for youth and families who face such challenges and struggles as LeGate has faced.  “I’d like to call for some sort of collaborative effort among parents – parents who are struggling with kids who are addicted – parents who’ve lost kids to addiction,” LeGate said.  “We have such passion and love and concern and sorrow.  That could all be corralled into a great force for good.  And as we all know when we help others, we heal ourselves.  We have lost so many beautiful and valuable children like Marah Williams.  Let’s please not lose anymore.  As Marah said, ‘we are not throwaway people’.”

You can view Penny LeGate’s impassioned presentation in the middle of the attached video http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=5011462

I stand in solidarity with King County parents of children and youth who struggle with emotional, behavioral, mental health and substance abuse challenges. I am one with all of you.  Together we can make a difference by ensuring that our policymakers pass legislation that supports our needs and the needs of our loved ones.  Let’s answer the call to action issued at the 18th annual King County Legislative Forum. Guided Pathways –Support for Youth and Families will be one of many organizations who will sponsor rallies in Olympia. Please look for more information and join GPS to advocate for youth and families on March 23, 2015.  Let your voice be heard now and throughout the 2015 Legislative Session at the Federal, State, County and City levels.  Emotional and mental health matters and recovery is possible! If you agree, please comment!