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Connect 4 Mental Health Leads System Change From the Bottom-Up

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This past week, Connect 4 Mental Health (C4MH) announced its 2015 winners of the Community Innovation Awards. The goals of C4MH are keenly important. The organizers include The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the National Council for Behavioral Health (National Council), along with Otsuka America and Lundbeck Pharmaceutical. They seek to spur local growth of community based behavioral health systems of care, and lead the way to create a national culture of behavioral health system transformation, using a bottom-up approach.

The winners of the 2015 Community Innovation Awards join a growing and distinguished group of local behavioral health care leaders. One could say they are behavioral health care thought catalysts, whose best practices will help inform and advance system transformation at a national level. All winners receive a $10,000 award and access to one-on-one mentorship from prior winners. They include the Henderson Behavioral Health Center, Broward County, Florida, who were honored for its innovative First Episode Psychosis Program. Henderson is a founding partner of Broward's pioneering Mental Health Court.

All winning organizations reflect the four C4MH pillars, which include early intervention, service integration, continuity of care, and the creative use of technology. This year's winners are:

NAMI, San Diego, which through its Tech CAFÉ provide technological training to more than 350 mental health consumers, in order to improve and manage their health and wellness.

Mental Health America (MHA) of Northern (Covington) Kentucky and Southwest Ohio, who trained more than 750 people in Mental Health First Aid, to promote identification and intervention to aid those who may be in crisis.

NAMI at Greater Cleveland, Ohio, who provide multi-level support for those residing in local high-poverty public housing facilities. This helps at-risk residents to connect to a community of supportive peers, in an effort to avoid eviction.

Jefferson Center for Mental Health (Wheat Ridge, Colorado), an innovative client centered organization that empowers through education, connectivity, and the promotion of dignity and health activation. The Jefferson Center for Mental Health was selected for its Union Square Home diversion project that so far has diverted more than 650 consumers from costly and inappropriate settings, including emergency rooms and prison.

The C4MH represents a visionary behavioral health care reform, already sanctioned by other public health experts. This includes the Harvard Forum on Health, who in their report, "A Strategy for Health Care Reform: Catalyzing Change from the Ground Up", concluded that the American health care system is "in an accelerating downward spiral. This includes wasteful, unsustainable, costly, inadequate in quality, and unable to protect millions against the financial burden of illness." After years of reviews, including, community based forums held across the U.S., researchers came to the conclusion that local and grassroots efforts are an effective springboard to find solutions and creative strategies to respond to vexing social problems. Further finding that local solutions are drivers to national health care policy reform.

As the presiding judge of America's first problem-solving Mental Health Court, I see the positive impact of the C4MH pillars and local approach to system change each and every day in the courtroom. It is fair to say, that in order to end the deplorable trend of the criminalization of persons with serious mental illness, communities must provide access to evidence based behavioral health care.

To learn more about the C4Mh and the Community Innovation Awards, visit connect4mentalhealth.com.