By Matt Burdick and Dara Larson, NAMI Minnesota
This summer when we heard President Obama calling for a “national conversation on mental health” to get people talking about mental illnesses in a positive and productive way, we knew exactly what he meant. In Minnesota, plans were already under way for a very similar project with the “Make It OK” campaign. We enthusiastically took up the President’s charge—but with our own spin on things.
In partnership with our affiliates, community mental health providers, and the Make-it-OK Campaign, we will be hosting 19 community forums around the state. The President’s call to action built up the expectation and the excitement. With the National Dialogue building all around us, we are building on the “Make It OK” campaign whose mission is to get people to stop the silence, share stories, and dispel the myths surrounding mental illnesses. The more we talk, the more we understand, and the more we make it OK.
Each upcoming Community Conversation event will feature a speaker sharing their personal story of living with a mental illness and recovery (including a number of NAMI In Our Own Voice presenters), followed by a group discussion about how people can work together to make their community a more welcoming and supportive environment for children and adults living with mental illnesses and their families. The personal stories will provide an opportunity for people in the community to know they are not alone in living with a mental illness while also reducing stigma. We are asking people to fill out pledge cards that include three steps to “Make It OK” which include to learn more, start talking and to pass it on to other people by encouraging them to join the conversation. Our goal is to give people in every corner of our state the chance to have this important conversation in their community. While it may seem a daunting task, the responsiveness to the National Dialogue means there has never been a better time to spread the message of support and hope, and we are very excited to seize this opportunity.
The inspiration felt in our state office has taken hold of our community affiliates as well. Grand Rapids, in rural Northern Minnesota, had more than 50 people attend their event on a Thursday night. There was a wide variety of community members including the sheriff, peer specialists, family members, hospital board staff, people living with mental illnesses and many more. They discussed barriers and needed services in their community. Some of the barriers were lack of crisis beds and step-down services, not enough involvement by primary care providers and lack of understanding and education about mental illnesses overall. They identified a need for increased funds for early treatment, more training for law enforcement, treatment for dual disorders such as chemical dependency and increased awareness of children and teens. They even scheduled a follow up meeting to work on next steps.
These meetings are a compelling first step to creating a dialogue around mental illnesses and creating a movement for change. People can take an easy step by pledging to talk or an even bolder step to committing to creating change. Together, we can break down the stigma surrounding mental illness.