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Let the Dialogue Begin

By Katrina Gay, NAMI National Communications Director

National Dialogue

For the first time in 13 years, the White House held a conference on mental health, on June 3, 2013. On this day, President Obama hosted a day-long conference with health care experts, psychologists, faith leaders, advocates for veterans and a host of administration officials to kick off a national conversation about mental health in the United States.

The purpose of a conference is to stimulate action. As a result of the 2000 White House Conference on Mental Health convened by President Clinton, mental health insurance parity became a reality. As with then, this 2013 conference offers possibilities and promise.

NAMI knows that real change happens in the grassroots, in local communities, where we benefit from the wisdom of our unique cultures, experiences and day-to-day realities. Leverage the conversation to galvanize meaningful action and ensuring boots to the ground to walk the talk will be the measure of success for the National Dialogue on Mental Health.

In order to use the awareness the conference has garnered to promote solutions, NAMI, NAMI State Organizations, NAMI Affiliates and advocates have the benefit of new partners in our advocacy fight. The United Way, the Boys and Girls Clubs, Universities, mayors, 4-H, the YWCA and others are heeding the call and embracing the cause. In the spirit of democracy, many virtual and local communities are renewing their commitment to finding solutions to our mental health crisis.

Four Key Activities Aim to Encourage the Dialogue

The National Dialogue on Mental Health launched as an initiative not to begin a dialogue, but to elevate the discussion in communities across the country. The National Dialogue has sparked multiple activities to reduce the barriers of stigma and promote real solutions for people affected by mental illness, and NAMI is involved in many of them. They include:

Creating Community Solutions (CCS). CCS events are a key part of the National Dialogue initiative that aims to organize hundreds of community conversations and action plans. There are 10 “anchor” events scheduled or in process in 10 cities across the country. In addition, dozens of other local events are in process or are being planned. The goals for CCS are:

  • Get Americans talking about mental health to break down misperceptions and promote recovery and healthy communities.
  • Find innovative community-based solutions to mental health needs, with a focus on helping young people.
  • Develop clear steps for communities to move forward in a way that complements existing local activities.
  • Forge mutually beneficial relationships with external peer organizations.
  • Network with other community leaders to gain additional support and expand funding opportunities.

Across the country, local and county governments, school systems, nonprofit organizations, faith communities, health care providers, local funders, civic groups, colleges and universities, libraries and many other kinds of organizations are coming together to host events and collaborate to promote real solutions that make sense for local communities.

Facilitated by AmericaSpeaks, Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC), Everyday Democracy, the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) and National Institute for Civil Discourse, the CSS events present opportunities for NAMI Affiliates to engage with sometimes non-traditional partners in elevating discussions and promoting solutions to address mental illness at the local level.

For more on the CSS events and opportunities for engagement, visit PSA Campaign. In July, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) unveiled a multiplatform public service campaign to increase understanding and awareness about mental health.

Targeted to young people ages 13 to 24, the campaign aims to drive conversation around this critical issue with the message that it’s okay to talk about mental health.

The PSA, developed with recommendations from NAMI, was launched on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., at a large press event during which NAMI Northern Virginia Peer Support Specialist Ellie Hoptman addressed the large crowd and drove the campaign’s message home by sharing her personal story of living with mental illness.

Television and radio stations nationwide are airing spots to encourage the conversation at, a Tumblr-based platform with resources that encourage young adults to speak out about how they are feeling with messages of support, hope and inspiration.

Raising Mental Health Awareness on Campuses. In collaboration with the North-American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference, NAMI developed the Raising Mental Health Awareness—Part One: Educate Yourself presentation deck. Designed to equip campus sorority and fraternity members with information about mental health, the presentation guide and slides are intended to empower student campus champions and to further encourage the National Dialogue on campuses nationwide. Warning signs of mental health issues and what to do if students see the warning signs are addressed in the deck, which can be used by any campus leader. NAMI will be developing a similar presentation and guide for a broader student audience this fall.

This part of the National Dialogue aspires to reach students on 800 campuses. Raising Mental Health Awareness aims to challenge the stereotypes that have pervaded older generations. promote understanding and encourage treatment and support for people experiencing mental health challenges.

Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Summits. A fourth initiative of the National Dialogue, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is directing 151 of its health care centers nationwide to conduct Mental Health Summits with community partners, including local government officials, community-based organizations and Veteran Service Organizations, starting July 1 through Sept. 15.

The Summits will identify and link community-based resources to support the mental health needs of veterans and their families, as well as help increase awareness of available VA programs and services. Many NAMI Affiliates and NAMI State Organizations are involved in the VA Mental Health Summits, encouraging community connections to help meet the needs of veterans and their families, one of the highest priorities of the VA. NAMI Massachusetts was one of those affiliates. The executive director of NAMI Massachusetts, Laurie Martinelli, writes about the affiliate’s relationship with its local VA on page 26.

The VA recognizes that as they continue to expand mental health resources to meet the needs of veterans, truly veteran-centric, recovery-oriented care requires active collaboration and coordination with partners in the community, including NAMI Affiliates.

For more on the VA Mental Health Summits, visit

Looking Ahead

As President Obama said at the conference, this is not the start of a conversation, but rather the elevation of the ongoing discussion.

The success of this effort depends largely on the will of virtual and local communities to promote real action. With our support of the National Dialogue on Mental Health, NAMI continues the fight to ensure that people are the beneficiaries. That those in need who live with mental illness get the assistance, treatment and services they need to recover. That the help and hope that is the promise of our movement becomes a reality.

Follow the National Dialogue Online

Twitter: @mentalhealthgov and #mentalhealthmatters


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