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Summer 2013, Volume 21, Number 3

Advocate Janelle Montaño, Actor Bradley Cooper, SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde, and Sacramento, CA, Mayor Kevin Johnson at the White House event.

Advocate Janelle Montaño, Actor Bradley Cooper, SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde, and Sacramento, CA, Mayor Kevin Johnson at the White House event.

View from the Administrator
Launching a National Conversation on Mental Health

By Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., SAMHSA Administrator

On January, 16, 2013 President Barack Obama called for a "national conversation to increase understanding about mental health" and directed Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Arne Duncan of the U.S. Department of Education to launch a national conversation on mental health. President Obama said that now is the time to end the "sense of shame and secrecy associated with mental illness."

One of the keystones of this effort is community conversations, in which people not only educate others regarding mental illness and mental health, but also hear from other Americans about their ideas for innovations and ways to address mental health needs.

The first community conversations will take place in Sacramento, Birmingham, Albuquerque, Kansas City, and Washington, DC, and are designed to improve awareness of mental health issues and increase access to treatment at the local level. These community conversations will be led by trained facilitators and are partnerships between local philanthropy, civic leaders, and community organizations. Other communities wishing to hold community conversations can use SAMHSA's Toolkit for Community Conversations About Mental Health to guide their local efforts.

Participants will discuss issues related to the mental health of young people and also will learn how mental health promotion and prevention activities in communities, schools, and families can help reduce the development of mental health issues. Most important, they will be able to customize proposed solutions for their own communities, thus targeting their local resources while connecting with others at the grassroots level.

As described in Landmark Mental Health Conference Convened in this issue of SAMHSA News, the White House hosted a National Conference on Mental Health to launch the effort in early June. The event brought together people with mental health issues, providers, and advocates, along with health care providers, educators, faith leaders, and policymakers.

In one panel, participants heard from experts such as Norman Anderson, the American Psychological Association's chief executive officer, and Barbara Van Dahlen, founder of the veterans' nonprofit Give An Hour, about how to change negative attitudes about mental illness. In another panel, experts highlighted innovative social marketing approaches that could be used in mental health outreach efforts.

The event included an announcement that dozens of private sector organizations were committed to raising awareness. They include the National Association of Broadcasters, Blue Star Families, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Parent Teacher Association, YMCA, American Medical Association, behavioral health service providers, faith groups, civic leaders, foundations, groups representing individuals with lived experience, and many more.

They will launch public awareness campaigns in the media, teach students and adults how to spot signs of trouble in kids, encourage health care providers to screen their patients, host conversations in their communities, and educate religious congregations about mental health.

Increased awareness and understanding won't bring change unless those living with mental health problems get the treatment and support they need. For this reason, it's fortunate that major components of the Affordable Care Act will soon go into effect.

As described in Providing Education on New Health Care Options, another article in this issue of SAMHSA News, enrollment for the new state insurance exchanges and expanded Medicaid programs will begin October 1, with coverage beginning January 1, 2014. The law will prevent insurers from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing mental health issues.

While the law will expand mental health coverage to include 62 million more Americans, it is families, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and others who can help ensure that people with mental illness take advantage of that new opportunity by enrolling in health exchanges.

Community conversations, public awareness campaigns, and enrollment opportunities all encourage innovation and creativity in trying to meet the concerns of our nation and open new avenues for change. We should all be a part of the conversation. We all have a stake in the outcome.

— Pamela S. Hyde, J.D.

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