A guest post by Kathy Flaherty
I was civilly committed my first year at Harvard Law School when I was correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was represented at a probate court hearing by a court-appointed lawyer, and I was incredibly frustrated when it appeared to me that he did not zealously advocate on my behalf. I knew I wanted to be a legal services lawyer when I went to law school - but I didn't know that there were agencies that existed specifically to represent people like me.
Fortunately, when I disclosed my experience in an interview for a first year internship, I was told about the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, and I had an amazing summer working there.
Fast forward 23 years - I am now blessed to be the Executive Director. I have come full circle in living with my illness. My experiences of being hospitalized (both voluntarily and involuntarily), medicated, and secluded/restrained inform my ability to do my job in leading this organization, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Being provided opportunities to share my story allows me to combat the stereotyping and discrimination that is so often encountered by people living with mental health diagnoses.
When our legal rights are protected - when we have access to treatment that we want, stable housing, education, and employment opportunities - we are able to get well and stay well. Recovery isn't easy - it's hard work - just like the fight to protect our rights.
Kathy Flaherty is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc. CLRP is a statewide non-profit agency which provides legal services to low income individuals with mental health conditions on matters related to their treatment, recovery, and civil rights. Prior to this position at CLRP, Kathy was a staff attorney at Statewide Legal Services of CT, Inc. for a total of 15 years, a staff attorney at Connecticut Legal Services for two, and Associate Executive Director of CLRP. Kathy has been involved in mental health advocacy since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder her first year of law school. Kathy is a 1994 graduate of Harvard Law School and a 1988 graduate of Wellesley College.
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