White House Conference on Mental Health: One Year Later
One year after President Obama convened the White House Conference on Mental Health on June 3, 2013 and launched the historic Now is the Time plan, there have been many efforts to make behavioral health resources and assistance more accessible to Americans. These efforts include several new programs that increase access to mental health treatment, services, and supports, particularly for youth and young adults. The Now is the Time plan also kick-started a nationwide effort to hold community conversations all across America so that local communities could begin to address the issue of mental health openly and build new partnerships and identify action steps toward positive change. SAMHSA has supported the movement to have community dialogues about mental health issues by developing the Toolkit for Community Conversations about Mental Health to aid in the facilitation of these conversations.
Last year’s White House event hosted by President Obama, with Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius and Education Secretary Duncan, brought together community, state, and federal representatives, with national stakeholders, and even included celebrities like Glenn Close and Bradley Cooper. The goal of the conference was to:
- Launch new public awareness efforts on television, radio, social media, and beyond;
- Teach students about mental health and help adults who work with young people to recognize early warning signs and refer youth to treatment;
- Give health care providers the tools they need to screen for mental health problems and encourage them to lead awareness efforts in their communities;
- Convene experts, civic leaders, foundation representatives, and others to identify innovative ways to reduce negative attitudes about mental health and improve access to treatment; and
- Encourage houses of worship and other faith-based organizations to have conversations to help people recognize warning signs and refer to treatment.
Some consistent themes and recommendations have emerged from the community conversations. These themes include the need to increase community awareness about mental health, the importance of engaging youth directly to promote mental health awareness, the development of programs to identify early signs and symptoms of mental distress, the development of targeted systems of care for young adults (ages 18 to 24), the need for culturally specific and appropriate services, the benefits of integrating mental health into other health care systems, and developing local capacity and leadership to build and sustain progress. The dialogues continue to take place in new communities, with many continuing to be planned in 2014.
During the White House Conference the Administration also released MentalHealth.gov, a new website focused on consumer-friendly information to propel the national dialogue online and in social media. The website provides an overview of mental health problems, warning signs, and tips on how to talk about mental health and get help.
Now is the Time
SAMHSA also created many resources to support the national dialogue on mental health, which can be downloaded or ordered on SAMHSA’s website. Resources include:
- Discussion Guide for Community Conversations About Mental Health (available in Spanish)
- Planning Guide for Community Conversations About Mental Health (available in Spanish)
- Mental Health in My Community, an information graphic about mental health in the United States (available in Spanish)
- Information Brief for Community Conversations About Mental Health (available in Spanish)
- Information for Faith-Based and Community Leaders
- Everyone Can Play a Role in the Conversation about Mental Health: Fact Sheet for Faith-Based Communities
- Mayors' Resource Guide on Behavioral Health Issues
Earlier this year SAMHSA announced the expansion of funding for vital mental health services, especially for children and youth. Congress increased SAMHSA’s funding in 2014 by $115 million to support the Administration’s plan to protect children and communities by increasing access to mental health treatment and services. These newly funded initiatives were identified in the President’s Now is the Time plan that aims to launch new and dynamic efforts to intervene earlier and engage children, young adults, and others in programs and supports that promote recovery and wellness.
The Now is the Time initiative includes Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), which will provide mental health supports to 750,000 students and their families and promotes Mental Health First Aid training for teachers and other individuals who work with youth and schools in communities; the Healthy Transitions program which assists 16-25 year olds with mental illnesses and their families in accessing and navigating behavioral health systems; and the Behavioral Health Workforce program that includes collaboration with the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) to train approximately 5,000 additional professionals to deliver treatment and services to students and young adults with behavioral health conditions.
SAMHSA’s Now is the Time grant announcements were released earlier this year and include:
- Now is the Time: Minority Fellowship Program – Youth aims to reduce health disparities and improve behavioral health care outcomes by engaging master’s level professionals to serve children, adolescents, and young adults transitioning to adulthood.
- Now is the Time: Minority Fellowship Program – Addiction Counselors will support students pursuing master’s level degrees in addiction/substance abuse counseling and improve outcomes for racially and ethnically diverse populations by increasing the number of culturally competent counselors available to underserved minority populations.
- Now is the Time: Project AWARE State Educational Agency Grants will build and expand State Educational Agency capacity to increase awareness of mental health issues among school-aged youth; provide training for school personnel and others who work with children and youth; and connect children, youth, and families to appropriate services.
- Now is the Time: Project AWARE Local Educational Agency Grants will train school personnel and other adults who interact with youth in school and in the community to detect and respond to mental illness in children and youth.
- Now is the Time Healthy Transitions: Improving Life Trajectories for Youth and Young Adults with, or at Risk for, Serious Mental Health Concerns will provide funding to improve access to treatment and support services for youth and young adults ages 16 to 25 that either have, or are at risk of developing serious mental health issues.
Congress also allocated $24 million more in funding for the Mental Health Block Grant to help states and territories develop programs to address early signs of serious mental illness, including early signs of psychosis. SAMHSA, in collaboration with the National Institute of Mental Health, has disseminated guidelines for the state implementation of programs that promote evidence-based, early intervention programs.