Apr 27, 2021

Joseph Feaster, Jr., a long time MAMH Board Member, speaks on equity, advocacy, and the future of mental healthcare.

Attorney Joseph D. Feaster, Jr. has been practicing law for nearly 45 years and has developed an expertise in numerous areas of the law, including corporate, employment and labor, real estate, contract, licensing and zoning, and probate. During this time, he has been a leader in advocating for effective mental health services to support individuals and families, with an ongoing focus on addressing disparities and stigma.

How did you become involved with MAMH?

I became involved with MAMH shortly after the passing of my son, Joseph, from suicide. I was introduced to then president, Bernie Carey, and I contributed the monies that were raised at my son's memorial service for a program being administered by MAMH with the Lindemann Mental Health Center. Since that time, I have served on the Board of Directors and am now a member of the Executive Committee.

How do you think MAMH's work supports communities in Massachusetts?

Well, we have a great network and we certainly have a great President and CEO in Danna Mauch and the staff at MAMH. They are regarded highly both in the governmental and private sector for addressing mental health issues from the standpoint of those afflicted with it, as well as caregivers in the public purview. Danna personally is involved with so many partnerships across the spectrum. As a theme with the Board and the staff, we are able to effectively keep the issue of mental health in the forefront and make sure that policymakers and funders pay close attention to it. We have a long history of doing that, and we ae definitely continuing that history.

The last year has highlighted enormous mental health disparities across the Commonwealth. What do we need to do to address this?

We know that disparities are exacerbated in communities of color. That is both our history and our experience during COVID-19. We are seeing the disparities in the ability of people to get medicine, or even focused attention to their needs. There are times in history when certain events will trigger raising our awareness to problems that many of us have always known are there. These are issues MAMH has worked on over the years, so this is not a new conversation for us. What is new in the conversation now is that more people are paying attention to it.

What is your hope for the future of mental health services?

I hope that we can begin to equalize the resources put in place to address mental health and recognize that practitioners of mental health are just as important as other types of medical practice. We must find alternative ways to deal with service delivery, how we look at psychologists, how we support academic institutions, and what we have to do to get more practitioners of color. There is desirability to speak to a health professional who looks like you, can speak your language and understand what you're going through in a more culturally competent way. That is not to say someone who may be of a different race cannot do that, but there is a comfort in talking to someone who looks like you and your family members. I hope that we can expand that and help that grow in the future.

What advice would you give to someone hoping to be involved in mental health advocacy?

We need as many hands and minds involved in this struggle. There are those who will get up, go to work, and just go home. That is not going to be sufficient; we have got to get our hands dirty. I would hope that by reading this interview, I encourage folks to apply some of their time, talent, and treasures to address the myriad issues and concerns that we have -- not only in behavioral health, but on the many issues that we have in our society. I have seen positive strides, and I have seen some setbacks. My advice is this: do not give up the fight, just continue to forge forward. Even if you get little incremental victories...they are still victories!

picture of Joseph Feaster Jr., MAMH board member

You can hear more of Joseph's moving, powerful story about losing a child to suicide, how his advocacy helps him heal, and how to support other parents experiencing this loss in this interview on The PowerPLAY.

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