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White House Conference on Mental Health: What Now?

What Now

There was great attention on the White House Conference on Mental Health yesterday. People from around the nation watched the proceedings through the White House live feed. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and traditional media were ablaze.

The conference wasn’t the beginning of this ongoing conversation, however ― not by any means. “The main goal of this conference is not to start a conversation ― so many of you have spent decades waging long and lonely battles to be heard,” said President Obama in his remarks. “Instead, it’s about elevating that conversation to a national level and bringing mental illness out of the shadows.”

Did it do that?

Modern Healthcare wrote that the event was an “all-day public relations affair.” In that article, National Council CEO Linda Rosenberg said that the White House “did a great PR job of taking down the barriers of getting people help.” However, she added that no “practical steps” were presented to address providers’ capacity to treat people with mental health and addiction problems.

But such elevated national attention has been long sought by the thousands of mental health and addiction providers who have fought hard for years to bring the right attention to behavioral health disorders. “To the extent there is now a public discussion on mental health, that is a positive,” said Chuck Ingoglia, senior vice president at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing in a Washington Post article.

The National Council and mental health and addiction providers around the nation have been heralding viable solutions: passage of the Mental Health First Aid Act and the Excellence in Mental Health Act.

  • The Excellence in Mental Health Act would establish criteria for certified community behavioral health centers and authorize Medicaid payments to centers that meet the new standards ― similar to the funding mechanisms used for federally qualified health centers.
  • The Mental Health First Act of 2013 (S. 153/H.R. 274) authorizes $20 million in grants to fund Mental Health First Aid training programs around the country. These trainings help people identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance abuse. The training teaches participants a 5-step action plan to reach out to a person who may be in crisis and connect them with help.

This is our time. We have to take this opportunity to push ― harder than ever before ― by talking with our legislators, the media, the people we serve, their family members, and our friends about what we all can do to make sure the 1 in 5 children and adults living with mental health and addiction problems aren’t afraid to get help and can access it. No one will champion these issues for us. The bases are loaded. Let’s bring this home.

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