A Facilitated Conversation On Mental Health: A National Dialogue
By Sharon Goldberg
On July 23, 2013, Marvin Spieler and I attended a facilitated community conversation about Mental Health as part of The White House’s National Dialog on Mental Health, sponsored by MH Mediate. On January 16, 2013, President Obama began this initiative to raise awareness of mental health issues and ultimately reduce the stigma associated with mental Illness. One vital aspect of these discussions is in the creating of community solutions. People throughout the country are being encouraged to discuss mental health related issues and determine the best course of action to improve mental health services in their own communities.
We were organized into groups and seated at round tables, each person having the opportunity to discuss various aspects of mental health as it related to services. Our table had three mental health service consumers. One individual not only received mental health services, she was working on her doctorate in social work and had been providing services to mentally ill clients. Another individual was a social work student intern. Another worked with troubled children and adolescents and was primarily concerned with obtaining mental health services for them. Our two facilitators had very little knowledge about the issues facing mental health consumers and acknowledged their enhanced knowledge as a result of our candid discussion.
The three major topics discussed were: (1) how mental health stigma affects our society and what we can do about it; (2) what barriers to communication about mental illness exist and how can we overcome it; and (3) what strategies we can use to ensure full access to mental health services. All ideas from these discussions will be transmitted to The White House.
Of the many examples of stigma, barriers to communication about mental illness and solutions to these problems discussed, most noted was the criminalization of mental illness in the recent mass shootings in Connecticut, Colorado, and Virginia involving persons with some sort of mental disturbance. Another example closer to home was the mentally disturbed individual who had pushed Kendra off a subway platform, resulting in “Kendra’s Law,” or AOT. Also discussed was how providers of mental health services, often themselves, stigmatize the mentally ill in that they are often selective in whom they wish to treat. The news media was also cited as a culprit for its stigmatizing headlines in newspapers and insensitive TV and radio news reporting.
Our conclusion about communication barriers to mental illness discussed included such varied factors as fear, culture, stigma, prejudice, blame, lack of training and lack of listening. We could improve communication by bringing in family, opening up to cultural understanding, and moving away from the medical model of treatment to a more humane approach. The patient is a person first, not a disease. We should stop the media from misrepresenting the mentally ill, and we should make it easier to navigate and access services.
The question of what problems need solving when it comes to obtaining better mental health services include housing, education, employment and community supports. As Marvin Spieler stated, “A home, a job, a friend.”
Overall, it was a very positive experience. I had the chance to express my views and get positive non-judgmental feedback. I believe these discussions will lead to a better understanding of mental health issues, more humane treatments and positive outcomes for consumers of mental health services.