National Dialogues Provide a Platform for Those Affected by Mental Illness

I was privileged to participate in the National Mental Health Dialogue held in Kansas City last weekend. President Obama launched this effort, with events being held in 10 cities across the country

The excitement and energy were electric when I entered the ballroom where the event was held. There were approximately 350 people, diverse in age, culture and life experiences, who came together to discuss the mental health of young people — an issue that affects all of us.

Secretary of Health & Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, and the mayors of Kansas City, Kan., and Mo., attended the event. They spoke of the need to overcome negative attitudes, harmful stigmas and misunderstandings about mental health and substance abuse, to ensure that young people know recovery is possible and that there are resources available to help them.

The format for the day was to seat providers of mental health services and individuals and family members who are struggling with a mental illness in tables of 10 for guided discussions.

A young man at my table spoke with great honesty, humor and insight into his challenges with his illness and the system existing to assist him.

Parents spoke of their struggle in finding services and in ensuring their adult children with serious mental illnesses were compliant with treatment.

Their willingness to discuss such personal and painful experiences with us was extremely brave. They thanked us for listening to their voices but it was I who was thankful to them for their trust and candor.

I don’t know what the outcomes of these dialogues will be, but I do know I will be forever changed by hearing the heartfelt stories of my tablemates.

As we at HCF make funding decisions on resources for persons with mental & behavioral challenges, I will keep those stories in mind and seek to do the right thing for those who don’t always have a voice.

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