'It's imperative': National mental health leaders join ranks in Utah to fight stigma and disparities

‘It’s imperative’: National mental health leaders join ranks in Utah to fight stigma and disparities

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Huntsman Mental Health Institute and nearly 200 other organizations are meeting this week to establish a mental health network and discuss disparities.

The three-day Stop the Stigma Summit began Monday at Snowbird and is the first event of its kind. It includes key stakeholders such as the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, and the Rural Behavioral Health Institute.

“Not only is this gathering unusual, it is historic,” said David Huntsman, president and chief operating officer of the Huntsman Foundation. “In many ways, they’re the movers and shakers of the mental health world. They’re aligning in ways they never have before.

“We all know silos don’t work,” he continued. “Now is the time to come together, and collectively, we are going to do remarkable things. Now is the time to start ending the stigma, to change the way we think and talk about mental health, and to help relieve these people – because our suffering has gone on too long.”

The summit brings together 175 representatives from hundreds of national organizations and aims to establish a common theme and understanding in messaging surrounding mental health and substance use.

This week’s summit focused primarily on building a national network between organizations and breaking the stigma around mental illness. The Stop the Stigma campaign will be a 10-year effort and collaboration between the many organizations, said Dr. Mark Rapaport, CEO of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

“Mental health disorders are preventable or treatable, and they are often curable. But sadly, many don’t get the care they need because of the unnecessary stigma attached to it,” said Kristin Kroeger, chief policy officer. , programs and partnerships at the American Psychiatric Association. “Let’s stop the stigma together and work to change the narrative around mental health; it’s imperative to create a healthier and stronger society.”

Now is the time to start ending the stigma, changing the way we think and talk about mental health, and helping bring relief to these people because our suffering has gone on too long.

–David Huntsman, Huntsman Foundation

As these organizations across the country have worked on mental health and addictions issues for decades, the need for collaboration across platforms has become apparent to many of them. The growing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and the emerging call for more support has created an opportunity for this collaboration to happen at scale for the first time.

Mental illness and substance use disorders are common across America. Nearly one in five American adults lives with a mental illness, according to the National Mental Health Institute. Yet the severity and prevalence of these problems have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Nearly 31% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, 13% said they started or increased their substance use, 26% reported stress-related symptoms, and 11% said they had had serious suicidal thoughts over the past 30 days, according to a US center. for disease control and prevention in June 2020.

The pandemic has intensified conversations about mental health in all spheres. In 2021, the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued an advisory to highlight the urgent need to help the youth mental health crisis nationwide.

“As an organization representing 133,000 psychologists across the country, we stand together in the trenches amid this mental health crisis,” said Jared Skillings, chief professional practice officer for the American Psychological Association. “It’s hugely important for us to see how personally it touches and to be able to recognize in ourselves how we can work.”

This personal connection and passion for the work of those present at the summit was evident.

“We know what it’s like to lose a loved one, and everyone in this room can share a story of how they’ve been affected by mental health. It’s in every home, but we’re too scared to ‘open our mouths and share our stories,’ said Christena Huntsman Durham, whose sister died nearly 15 years ago of an eating disorder and substance abuse disorder.

Among these stories was that of Gary Mendell. He is the founder and CEO of Shatterproof, an organization that campaigns for addiction recovery. Mendell’s work began after the grieving father was left with questions following his son’s suicide.

Mendell’s son, Brian, developed an addiction to alcohol and drugs in his late teens. Brian went through several treatment programs over the past eight years before overcoming his addiction.

“He was 25 and he had been substance-free for 13 months. Equally tragic, it wasn’t just an addiction, it cost my son his life,” Mendell said.

After reading his son’s suicide note on his computer, the father began traveling and researching substance abuse disorders. He met with several organizations and researchers and learned that stigma was a significant barrier to addressing these disorders.

“There’s no doubt that ‘how’ we describe people with this disease or relapses — or any aspect of it — will change how people view this disease,” Mendell said.

Although tackling the stigma of mental health and substance use disorders was the primary focus of the Stop the Stigma Summit, the discussions extended to improving access to care.

“We’re never okay with not being able to access care. We’re not okay with putting the mental health paradigm exclusively in a treatment box. The only way to get mental health treatment is if you have a diagnosed condition,” Skillings said. “We need to look upstream and think about how we can think about prevention efforts, early intervention and consider connecting community groups.”

For more information on the Stop the Stigma campaign and summit, visit the Huntsman Mental Health Institute website.


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Ashley Fredde covers social services and women’s issues for KSL.com. She also enjoys reporting on arts, culture and entertainment news. She graduated from the University of Arizona.

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