Taking action to address mental health issues

July 25, 2013

Three women smilingMental illness affects nearly all American families, and addressing this issue is vital to promoting the health of our communities. To lift the silence and raise awareness about mental health, President Obama has called for an honest, national conversation about mental health.

Mayor Richard J. Berry hosted one of the first dialogues as part of this initiative in Albuquerque, NM, on July 20 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Over three hundred residents came together for the “Creating Community Solutions – Albuquerque” dialogue to move beyond stereotypes and negative attitudes and toward solutions that improve mental health and mental health systems.

“Determining ways to eliminate the stigma and myths surrounding mental illness will be one of the most significant outcomes of Albuquerque's community conversation begun today,” Senator Pete Domenici said during a live phone call from Washington, D.C.“I'm proud that my home town is taking a lead in this vital national dialogue.”

The dialogue had a special focus on young people since half of all mental health disorders show signs before age 14, yet less than twenty percent of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need.

“Participants of the Albuquerque kickoff dialogue represented the whole community, with extra representation from young people, mental health providers, people with lived experience with mental health issues, and family members,” said Department of Family and Community Services Director Robin Dozier Otten.

In his opening comments Mayor Berry noted, “Today’s dialogue is just the beginning. We have continued conversations planned to ensure the ideas and priorities discussed today are carried out throughout the Greater Albuquerque community.”

Throughout the day, participants met in facilitated small-group dialogues to share personal experiences, discuss community assets and barriers, and identify actions they can take as individuals and families and that the community should take. Volunteers from the Albuquerque area were trained to facilitate and record the discussions.

Action ideas stemming from the conversations include creating a media campaign to raise awareness about issues and resources, having more mental health providers at places accessible to youth, and leveraging partnerships to reduce fragmentation between providers.

“A diverse action planning committee will work from the results of today’s event to move this important work forward in the fall through the planned continuing community conversations,” said Martha McCoy, executive director of Everyday Democracy, Albuquerque’s national partner in the initiative.

Mayor Berry closed the day by saying, "I intend to tell the President that we are setting the bar high here, and we are developing a roadmap forward on this important issue. Albuquerque is poised to lead and we will deliver meaningful results."

Additional conversations will take place this fall throughout the Greater Albuquerque Region, “so that even more people can join the conversation and have a voice in creating action plans and strategies,”said Felicia Barnum, President, National Alliance on Mental Illness Albuquerque Affiliate.  

Albuquerque has already created an impressive collaboration of support for this conversation. A steering committee has led the effort, along with Everyday Democracy and New Mexico-based Everyday Democracy representatives Everette Hill and Eduardo Martinez.

The steering committee gave generously of its time and support; it includes individuals from the following organizations:

  • The Albuquerque Fire Department;
  • The Albuquerque Police Department;
  • Albuquerque Public Schools;
  • The Department of Family and Community Services, City of  Albuquerque;
  • The Department of Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico;
  • The Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, City of Albuquerque;
  • OptumHealth New Mexico;
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness – Albuquerque;
  • New Mexico Behavioral Health Collaborative;
  • New Mexico Youth Alliance;
  • The Office of the Mayor, City of Albuquerque;
  • The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico;
  • Youth Development, Inc.;
  • United Way of Central New Mexico.

This committee will continue to work on the initiative throughout 2013 and into 2014, and will form an action planning committee.

Videographers from Generation Justice captured highlights of the Albuquerque event, and interviewed several participants. Hiram Cruz provided simultaneous translation into Spanish, and the New Mexico Sign Language Academy provided translation services.     

The initiative has received support from the Paul J. Aicher Foundation and from New Mexico’s philanthropic community including Con Alma Health Foundation, the McCune Charitable Trust, and OptumHealth New Mexico.  The National Hispanic Cultural Center provided the space for the event.

Outcomes and lessons from the event will be available on the Creating Community Solutions website: On the site you can also find information about how to get involved in the initiative and learn more about how other communities are taking part across the country.

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