Caroline Mazel-Carlton. Credit…Danna Singer for The New York Times

By Daniel Bergner
May 17, 2022
New York Times


Around that time, in the late 2000s, when Mazel-Carlton was in her mid-20s, a new position arose in mental health: peer-support specialist, someone with what’s known as lived experience who works alongside practitioners. The idea is that peers can better win the trust of people who are struggling. For Mazel-Carlton, a series of these low-paying roles took her, in 2012, to Holyoke, Mass., once home to more than 25 paper mills, now one of the poorest places in the state. There, she went to work for a fledgling peer-run organization that is now called the Wildflower Alliance, with a three-room headquarters above a desolate downtown street and a goal of transforming the way our society understands and treats extreme mental distress.

She began leading Hearing Voices Network support groups — which are somewhat akin to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings — for people with auditory and visual hallucinations. The groups, with no clinicians in the room, gathered on secondhand chairs and sofas in humble spaces rented by the alliance. What psychiatry terms psychosis, the Hearing Voices Movement refers to as nonconsensus realities, and a bedrock faith of the movement is that filling a room with talk of phantasms will not infuse them with more vivid life or grant them more unshakable power. Instead, partly by lifting the pressure of secrecy and diminishing the feeling of deviance, the talk will loosen the hold of hallucinations and, crucially, the grip of isolation.

Mazel-Carlton also worked as a sometime staff member at Afiya house, a temporary residence run by the alliance as an alternative to locked wards. The people who stay at Afiya are in dire need; many are not only in mental disarray but also homeless. Many are suicidal. There are no clinicians on staff, no security personnel, only people who know such desperation firsthand. In the living room, a homemade banner declares: “Holding multiple truths. Knowing that everyone has their own accurate view of the way things are.”

A decade after her arrival in Holyoke, Mazel-Carlton and the Wildflower Alliance are now leaders in a growing effort to thoroughly reform how the field of mental health approaches severe psychiatric conditions. […]


Published: Apr. 14, 2022, 9:07 a.m.

SPRINGFIELD — Baystate Health has awarded $1 million in Better Together Grants to five community initiatives with partner organizations as part of its Community Benefits Program.

“Baystate Health is proud to invest our Determination of Need Community Health Initiative funding in the communities served by our four hospitals. It is an honor to partner with these very deserving local non-profit organizations over the next three years,” said Annamarie Golden, director of community relations for Baystate Health

The recipients are:



An interview with Sera Davidow, Executive Director of Wildflower Alliance on their Peer Support Line and the founding principles of not tracing calls or contacting police without consent.


Sera Davidow is a filmmaker, activist, advocate, author, and mother of two very busy kids. As a survivor of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as a child and relationship violence as an adult, Sera has faced many challenges throughout her own healing process, including many ups and downs with suicidal thoughts, and self-injury. At present, she spends much of her time working as Director of the Wildflower Alliance (formerly known as the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community), which includes Afiya Peer Respite, recently recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of about two dozen exemplary, rights-based programs operating across the world. She also serves on several boards including the Massachusetts Disability Law Center (DLC) Board of Directors, the DLC’s Council Against Institutional and Psychiatric Abuse (CAIPA), as an advisory board member for the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health (NCDVTM), and as a founding Board member of Hearing Voices USA. You can learn more about Sera and her work in an April, 2018 article in Sun Magazine

This interview is the second in a series of conversations being conducted over the next few months around the issue of hotline tracing and intervention. The first interview was with Vanessa Green, founder of Call the Blackline. It is part of Mad in America’s Suicide Hotline Transparency Project, which was born out of the belief that creating transparency and public access around suicide hotline intervention and call-tracing policies should be a priority. This project includes a directory of lines that do not trace or intervene without consent, a public poll, survivor interviews, and an open call for art. Please visit the project page to find out how you can participate.

The transcript below has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the audio of the interview here.


The Cut

By  | July 2, 2021

[…] The day after Britney’s statement to an L.A. court last week, one heard around the world, I called up a psychiatric-survivor activist I’ve gotten to know, Caroline Mazel-Carlton. Mazel-Carlton, who’s also a rabbi-in-training, works for an organization that is revolutionizing mental-health care in western Massachusetts (and beyond), called the Wildflower Alliance. I asked her what she thinks of so many people suddenly rallying around psychiatric patients’ civil rights — or the rights of one patient, at least.

“To me, honestly, it’s just a relief,” Mazel-Carlton said. “Sometimes I even cry, to hear people finally saying, ‘That’s not right. That’s not right.’”

When we spoke, Mazel-Carlton seemed more focused on the actual activism of the day: This week, she and some colleagues testified to the Massachusetts legislature, speaking out against a proposed law that would expand forced psychiatry in their state. Euphemistically termed Assisted Outpatient Treatment or AOT, such laws have been adopted by 47 states over the last two decades. Such laws expand the state’s powers to make medical decisions for a person deemed incapacitated by virtue of insanity, for example, going beyond the time frame of a mandated psychiatric hold in a hospital, which traditionally would be for something like 72 hours. Instead, under such laws, a person who’s been released from the hospital, say, is now controlled and monitored, often on an indefinite basis, by the state.

These AOT laws are near-ubiquitous and represent a doubling down upon this coercive-psychiatry paradigm; in other words, they are the opposite of whatever liberated vision of mental-health care is endorsed, if hazily, by the #FreeBritney campaigners. I’ve wondered if those posting #FreeBritney realize there is already a robust movement for psychiatric patients’ civil rights, one that has been organizing for decades?

“I just want to say to people: Welcome to this movement,” said Mazel-Carlton. “It’s one of the less well-known liberation movements, but we’re really excited to have you if you want to fight by our sides and not just Britney’s.”


By Mattea Kramer
Published September 27, 2020 2:17AM (UTC)

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

…Back in March, one of the first recommendations for reducing the transmission of the coronavirus was, of course, to stay home — but not everyone has a home, and when businesses, restaurants, libraries, and other public spaces locked their doors, some people were left without a place even to wash their hands. In Holyoke, Rafael Rodriguez and his colleagues at the Recovery Learning Community, along with staff from several other local organizations, rushed to city officials and asked that a handwashing station and portable toilets be installed for the many local people who live unhoused. Rodriguez sees such measures not only as fundamental acts of humanity, but also as essential to any viable treatment for addiction.

“It’s really hard to think about recovery, or putting down substances, when [your] basic human needs aren’t being met,” he said. In the midst of extreme summer heat, he pointed out that there wasn’t even a local cooling center for people on the streets and it was clear that, despite everything he had seen in his life, he found this astonishing. He is now part of a community movement that is petitioning the local city government for an emergency shelter.

“When you have no idea where you’re going to rest your head at night, using substances almost becomes a survival tactic,” he explained. “It’s a way to be able to navigate this cruel world.” […] [CONTINUE READING]

Connection, whether one-on-one or in groups, is at the heart of peer support. In a time when social distancing, shelter-in-place, and stay-at-home orders proliferate, the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community/Wildflower Alliance (WMRLC) is finding creative ways to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances dictated by the novel coronavirus…


O pic

“To realize that somebody else has known that dark place is the only thing that made me feel less alone.”

O-Oprah Magazine – Dec 10, 2018

The only people who really understand what it feels like to want to end their lives are those who have been there.

That’s the basis of survivor peer-support groups, in which people who have experience with suicide come together to talk.

“To realize that somebody else has known that dark place is the only thing that made me feel less alone,” says Devon Shearer, a former group facilitator at the Didi Hirsch Survivors of Suicide Attempt Support Group in Los Angeles.

Talking about the tough stuff may be exactly what suicide survivors need.

“The group is where people can share things they can’t bring up with other folks in their lives,” says Caroline Mazel-Carlton, director of training for the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community and a peer facilitator for Alternatives to Suicide groups. (Continue Reading…)

NOTE from the RLC:

“On December 11th, O Magazine (the Oprah magazine) published an article called “How Talking About Suicide Can Give People Something to Live for”.

The article focuses primarily on peer-to-peer supports and groups run by and for individuals who have considered or attempted suicide. We are proud to share that the Western Mass RLC’s Director of Training, Caroline Mazel-Carlton, was interviewed for and included in the article. This is based on the fact that the RLC is responsible for creating one of the first ever models for peer-to-peer support groups related to suicide, called ‘Alternatives to Suicide’. These groups have been offered by the Western Mass RLC since 2008. The RLC has also developed an adapted ‘Alternatives to Suicide’ approach for clinicians, family, and others, as well.

Unfortunately, the article takes some of what Caroline has to say out of context, indicating that perhaps people in the group don’t actually go as deep as to talk about killing themselves. However, in reality, what Caroline was saying is that—when given the space to talk about what is truly driving people to consider leaving this planet– there are often many other things underlying that drive that they want and need to talk about, and the groups serve as a space in which they can do that.

In spite of any thing the article got wrong, it seems important that more and more mainstream media outlets are recognizing the importance of peer support in supporting people through some of their darkest times!”

Western Mass Recovery Learning Community on Chapman Street in Greenfield. December 20, 2017

Western Mass Recovery Learning Community on Chapman Street in Greenfield. December 20, 2017

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, June 19, 2018

GREENFIELD — The days of getting mixed up with its neighbors on Federal Street are now past them and instead the Recovery Learning Community at 20 Chapman St. is now finally feeling at home.

To celebrate its new center, the RLC is hosting an open house and open mic Wednesday.

From 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. members of the community are welcomed in for an open house, where there will be some homemade snacks offered, and then from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. there will be an open mic.

“We’ve had a strong revitalization of the community since (opening its doors in October) at this new space,” Natan Cohen, a peer and employee of the RLC, said.

[Continue reading…]

Western Mass Recovery Learning Community on Chapman Street in Greenfield. December 20, 2017

Western Mass Recovery Learning Community on Chapman Street in Greenfield.

Photo by Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

GREENFIELD — The old space was embattled. The old space flooded. The old space had mold issues. The old space was too narrow. The old space was somewhat removed from Main Street. And, the old space was constantly confused with its neighboring space next door on Federal Street.

The Western Mass Recovery Learning Community of Greenfield is not The RECOVER Project (although they sometimes partner together and share spaces), and now it is clearer than ever which one is which.

After a 13 month search process, the Western Mass Recovery Learning Center (RLC), which works to support healing and growth for individual with advocacy and peer-to-peer support, has moved into a space on Chapman Street, ending a bit of a nomadic existence…

[Continue Reading]