By Krystle Canare
In early October, NAMI joined over 600 attendees and nine other partner organizations for the 11th Annual Hill Day, a two-day event consisting of panels, celebrity keynotes educational breakout sessions, meetings with Congress and a public policy institute to learn about federal behavioral health policy. Hill Day brought together behavioral health providers, administrators, board members, advocates and community stakeholders from across the nation to call for better resources for mental health and addictions treatment in our communities.
For NAMI, this meant voicing the importance of comprehensive mental health reform. With the introduction of two major pieces of legislation, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015 (HR 2646) and Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 (S 1945), Hill Day presented a timely opportunity for NAMI and other advocates to take to the steps of the Capitol to urge Congressional support.
While neither bill is a perfect fix, the passage of both bills would improve our nation’s mental health system by focusing on outcomes, breaking down barriers for individuals and families to access services and supports and expanding the availability of evidence-based practices.
Andrew Sperling, NAMI Director of Federal Legislative Advocacy, spoke at the event urging the need for true mental health parity with community health centers and modifications to the Institutions for Mental Illness (IMD) exclusion because currently, individual patients' eligibility for Medicaid is revoked while they are inpatients in an IMD.
Other notable voices at Hill Day included TV talk show host Dr. Oz and singer/songwriter Demi Lovato, whose stories amplified the need to address not only federal legislation, but public perception as well.
In his Keynote, Dr. Oz addressed fear as the “elephant in the room” that has stunted the movement for mental health and addictions recovery. Fear, he suggested, is why he’s run 5Ks for breast cancer, dumped ice for ALS, but has never been asked to do something for mental health or addictions.
Yet while such stigma exists, Dr. Oz deemed that the “renaissance for recovery” has arrived. Much like the de-stigmatization of cancer in years past, he explained that elevating and shifting the conversation to one of compassion and outreach will change the perception surrounding mental illness and addiction.
Similarly, special guest Demi Lovato shared her story about living well with Bipolar disorder as an opportunity to break the silence regarding mental illness. “It is equally as important to speak up about it as it is to get help,” Lovato says. Her platform, Be Vocal: Speak Up For Mental Health, teams up with NAMI and other leading mental health advocacy organizations in an initiative that encourages people and communities across America to use their voice in support of mental health.
While Hill Day serves as a testament that change is possible, there is still much to be done to improve the quality of services and access of care for mental health and addictions services.
Here are a few things you can do to continue to advocate for mental health:
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