On June 3rd 2013, President Barack Obama hosted a National Conference on Mental Health at the White House as part of the Administration’s efforts to launch a national conversation to increase understanding and awareness about mental health. At the event, President Obama 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 Dialogue on Mental Health.
An important component of the national dialogue is Creating Community Solutions, which is a series of events around the country that will allow people to engage in dialogue and action on mental health issues. The effort is being led by the National Institute for Civil Discourse and several other deliberative democracy groups. The National Institute for Civil Discourse has joined in this initiative because we believe mental health is one of the most pressing issues facing our country, yet is one of the most difficult issues for Americans to talk about. We hope to engage thousands of Americans in a range of setting: small-group discussions, large forums, online conversations and large-scale events. The dialogues are supported by an array of local officials, nonprofit organizations, professional associations, foundations, and health care providers. In over 50 communities, planning has begun for the community conversations on mental health. The community conversations page at www.mentalhealth.gov describes the basic parameters of these events and the online map at www.creatingcommunitysolutions.org shows the full range of places and organizations involved. Two large-scale events of several hundred people each have already been convened this summer in Sacramento, CA and Albuquerque, NM. In Sacramento, local and state officials and community leaders were extremely supportive, including Mayor Kevin Johnson who attended the event along with members of his staff. Congresswoman Doris Matsui attended and talked about the State of Mental Health Matters. Sacramento aggressively used social media to recruit young people and it paid off. Thirty percent of the 350 people in the room were between the ages of 19-24. Local television and print media provided good coverage, including a segment on the local NBC affiliate KCRA. A diverse group of three hundred people attended the forum in Albuquerque. Former U.S. Senator Pete Domenici addressed the crowd, along with Mayor Richard Barry who joined people in the discussions and committed to act on some of the suggestions that emerged from the day. Albuquerque also received local television and print media coverage of the event, including a segment on KRQE. Now that the events are completed, each city will have a Community Action page under the Outcomes section on our website, www.creatingcommunitysolutions.org. Information about next steps, the outcomes of the event, relevant documents and media articles will be housed there. Both cities have robust action planning committees composed of local organizations and leaders committed to incorporating the strategies expressed by the participants into Community Action Plans that will guide their cities’ responses to mental health going forward. Some of those strategies included: strengthening existing resources, improving preventive services and continuity of care, teaching mental health services in schools, and communicating information about mental health services to young people using more extensive social media. Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer is the Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse.