For the last ten years, Kathy Bashor has advocated, fought, cajoled, and encouraged—sometimes with her feet firmly dug in— on behalf of people with mental illnesses. This month, Arizona State University’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy named Bashor recipient of the 2017 Arizona Behavioral Health Award for Leadership in Advocacy for her sustained contributions to the accessibility, availability, and effectiveness of behavioral health services in Arizona.
“It’s OIFA and our peer and family-run community, not me, that deserves this award,” Bashor demures. “It’s because of our collaborative effort that we’ve been able to advocate for change and ensure that the concept of recovery continues.”
She credits the Office of Individual and Family Affairs (OIFA), which she oversaw at the Arizona Department of Behavioral Health before it merged services with AHCCCS in 2016. With a dedicated staff at AHCCCS, OIFA strives to reach 355 community members each week with information about peer and family support services as well as health care advocacy for foster families and AHCCCS members with serious mental illness.
Changing policies and increasing resources may be easy work compared to Bashor’s ultimate goal: ending the stigma around mental illness. To that end, Bashor openly shares her personal story. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia during childhood, spent time in the state hospital and was told that she would never become a functioning member of society.
“The stigma that comes with having been in the system has been enormous,” says Bashor. People don’t understand us. That’s been the hardest part of the job. AHCCCS has opened the door to changing perceptions within the behavioral health community and community at large.”
Research shows that working side-by-side with someone with a diagnosis supports the recovery process. To that end, Bashor has been instrumental in creating peer and family resources in Arizona, including:
- Peer Academy – started in 2013 and credentialed by OIFA, the Peer Academy certifies peers who have received behavioral health services for mental illness. Peers help others with mental illness understand how to advocate for themselves, find career pathways and housing support, and learn about other behavioral health resources.
- Arizona Dialogues – Bashor began a series of what’s now more than 100 open dialogue sessions between doctors, patients, peers and family members to understand perspectives and affect change.
- Raise Your Voice –Bashor also led efforts to survey peer and family members about what they wanted most from their behavioral health system. The number one response? “Respect.”
While Bashor’s influence extends well beyond AHCCCS, she has also encouraged new perspectives on mental health and mental illness among her colleagues. During Mental Health Awareness Month in May, AHCCCS common spaces and hallways became an art gallery of works from PSA Art Awakenings.
AHCCCS commends Kathy Bashor for leadership in the behavioral health field and extends gratitude for her service to Arizona.