Make Your New Year's Resolution to Connect 4 Mental Health

2015 is here, along with the opportunity to positively impact the lives of individuals with serious mental illness and grow social justice in your local communities. While you were preparing for the holiday season, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), The National Council for Behavioral Health (National Council), Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc., and Lundbeck, announced the winners of the 2014 Community Innovation Awards. Four notable community based models were selected from one of four service areas. These service areas include early intervention, the creative use of technology, continuity of care, and service integration.

As Mary Giliberti, Executive Director of NAMI, states in the Connect 4 Mental Health, Community Innovation Awards Press Release: "A key to achieving positive outcomes and preventing negative consequences such as homelessness and poverty, is through sustainable collaboration between individuals, providers and systems, making C4MH an important catalyst for facilitating these types of collaborative efforts." For those individuals and families living with serious mental illness and struggling to avoid crisis, these words could not ring more true.

Make no mistake, the goals of Connect 4 Mental Health are critical and urgent. Ms. Gilberti, rightfully articulates the goals of preventing the negative consequences of untreated mental illness in America. As the pioneer of the nation's first human rights oriented Mental Health Court, I witness crisis and immeasurable human suffering every day.

The criminalization of serious mental illness is just one of a longer list of negative and cascading consequences, which includes homelessness, poverty, family erosion, co-occurring addictive disorders, crime and suicide. According to
, the enormity of the numbers should speak for themselves:
  • 615 million Americans will experience mental illness in any given year.
  • Approximately 60 percent of adults will not receive treatment.
  • Almost one-half of children and adolescents received no treatment in the prior year. Notwithstanding the research that one-half of all chronic mental illness begins at age 14.
  • According to the data, despite positive treatment outcomes, delays in receiving treatment are excessively long, sometimes decades from the first appearance of symptoms.

Despite the data and the evidence that treatment and psycho-social supports are highly effective and recovery possible for individuals with serious and persistent mental disabilities, U.S. policy makers have chronically failed to address this national public healthcare emergency. Recently, the Broward Mental Health Court, a home grown local effort, saved the life of a young adult. This highly educated and successful individual, with untreated schizophrenia, was arrested and is now being served, voluntarily, through the safety net of local collaborative models of care. My point, local grassroots efforts, such as those between the Broward Mental Health Court and local community based programs, matter. They make a real difference. This year, you can save lives by advocating for and sharing information about new important evidence based programs.

The award winners were selected by a panel of judges from NAMI and The National Council, as well as winners from the 2013 C4MH. These winners were selected based upon inspiring best practices. They will serve as models and mentors for other communities eager to create actionable collaborative system change. They are as follows:

Early Intervention: NAMI - Collier County
NAMI of Collier County (Naples, FL) provides universal screenings to promote early identification of behavioral health problems for at-risk children up to age 18. The HUGS Program has served more than 3000 low income children since 2010.

Creative Use of Technology: Crisis Text Line
Crisis Text Line (CTL) (New York, NY) is the first nationwide, free 24/7 text hotline for teens experiencing any kind of crisis. It provides teens with individualized support, using CTL'S software. Since launching this social media crisis intervention pilot in 2013, more than 3.9 million messages have been exchanged.

Continuity of Care: Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center (CDMHC)
The Assessment Mobile Crisis Program (A/MC) (Charleston and Summerville, SC) provides emergency services, case management, and outpatient psychiatric treatment, filling gaps in under-served areas. The team has helped to prevent more than 2000 departmental admissions, allowing many to be diverted to less costly and less restrictive levels of out-patient care.

Service Integration: The Robert Young Center Mental Health Center (RYC) (Moline, IL) is a comprehensive and fully integrated health partnership between Unity Point Health-Trinity and the local Federally Qualified Community Heath Care Center (CHC) in Iowa and Illinois. RYC provides integrated primary and behavioral healthcare for individuals with serious mental illness. It has saved the State of Illinois more than $8.2 million in Medicaid costs since 2009.

This new year, join me in advocating to grow our community based systems of mental healthcare. See Connect 4 Mental Health for more information.