Revelle dedicated his career to reducing the stigma of mental illness by being open and honest about his own illness.
The recent passing of former King County Executive Randy Revelle is a reminder that Washington state’s mental health parity law is a spectacular achievement of Revelle’s advocacy for this stigmatized area of health care.
Today, it is almost taken for granted that mental health should be on par with physical health in terms of law and health coverage. But decades ago, when Revelle began speaking out on this uncomfortable issue, discrimination in mental-health benefits was the norm. Revelle educated the public about the stigma and advocated tirelessly for reform. In 2005, he co-authored an opinion piece in The Seattle Times about discrimination of the mentally ill and urging a mental health parity bill.
Revelle led the Washington Coalition for Insurance Parity that successfully lobbied for the state’s mental health parity law. It was the work of many, but he was personally relentless in pursuit of this law, which took multiple years to achieve.
The first law, enacted in 2005, required large group health plans (businesses with more than 50 employees) to provide equal insurance coverage for mental health. In 2007, the coalition successfully advocated for the law’s expansion for the individual and small group insurance markets. Before the law, a person could not purchase an individual health plan with mental health coverage in Washington state.
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Revelle, a former senior vice president of government affairs at Washington State Hospital Association, was by all measures a big presence. As a former King County Executive, he would arrive to give a presentation on mental health dressed in his customary blue or gray pinstriped suit, and many in the audience would pay polite attention.
And then, in a defiance of stereotypes, he would launch into his personal story of living with bipolar disorder. His story would be delivered with painstaking detail, and people would start to hear him in a different way. He described having a psychotic episode that put his young children in danger.
He knew to immediately seek help. Revelle knew he was fortunate to have a supportive family and access to effective mental health treatment. He dedicated his career from that point forward to reducing the stigma of mental illness by being open and honest about his own illness.
He disarmed critics who had indelible images of the mentally ill in their minds — none of which fit Revelle. He captivated audiences in communities and in Olympia by sharing his vulnerability.
He told his story hundreds of times. He helped educate general audience members, but most touched people who were recently diagnosed. When approached by people convinced they had received a crippling diagnosis, Revelle was at his best. He moved people from stigma to hope.
While we’ve made great strides in this state, much work remains. We need to invest in intensive outpatient mental health programs to help people who are not sick enough to be hospitalized but need more than occasional visits to a therapist. We must fund proven programs such as supportive housing, which provides people with case management and health care in addition to a safe place to live.
Shortly before Revelle died, we discussed Gov. Jay Inslee’s mental-health plan. Revelle insisted that we ensure community facilities are in place and staffed before closing Eastern and Western State Hospitals to involuntary commitments. This work will require the unwavering focus Revelle embodied and the support of voters and lawmakers across our entire state.
Inspired anew by the man and leader who dedicated much of his life to mental health, we will continue his work to reduce stigma, and improve mental health funding and policy. We are prioritizing the people Revelle tenaciously sought to help.
We invite you to join us. If mental health solutions are important to you, contact your state legislators. Together, we can make our state the best it can be for mental health diagnosis, treatment and care.