When We Listen and Engage, We Begin to See Change

NOV. 04, 2015

By Amanda Lipp

We all sat around the table, having met each other only moments before. There were 14 of us from states across the country, our backgrounds ranging from advocates to scientific researchers to founders of some of the most innovative peer programs and organizations in the country. We entered the think-tank knowing only brief biographies of one another, but with the confidence that the threads of our experience, tied by way of listening and engaging, would weave thought into meaningful action. NAMI convened this meeting to discuss how to optimize programs and engagement strategies to help more people and to implement innovative strategies that pave paths for individual opportunity and systems-change.

Many themes emerged within the think-tank; personal stories led to issues of health care systems and discussions of system issues led to personal stories. While the two go hand-in-hand, most of us could arguably agree that the space between can seem like an eternity.

We wanted to boil down broad conceptual strategies into operational goals that have effective outcomes at the local level. So on behalf of our communities and families, we began to deliberate and dissect both conceptual and operational processes, from integrated health care to issues of identity and language. We explored how these issues intersect with evidence-based practices and strategies that organizations can adopt or leverage to support a culture of health in their communities.

Our discussions reflected conversations that are all too familiar to families around the nation: what do we do when we, ourselves, or the people we love the most, are struggling? How do we help each other overcome adversity while embracing culture and identity? Our discussions pivoted around both the science and art of mental health, as providing the best treatment or service, to a person is effective only to the extent of how we acknowledge and infuse their culture, language and identity.

How can we, as a system, as professionals and as families, reframe the language we use to engage more effectively? A theme in our discussions emerged—that a paradigm shift in the language we use may be necessary. What would the outcome of support look like if we saw both the patient and the provider as both consuming and providing information—if people in all their roles and perspectives actively participated in the construction of support as a collective process?

While it was understood that each of us came from different systems, cultures and communities, patterns of consensus began to emerge around areas we felt were consistently put on the back-burner of mental health care. For example, all too often, person-first language, strength-based support, identity and peer support are undervalued support strategies that can make the difference between an individuals’ rock bottom or their turning point.

History is important, but making history from the foundation of our past is how we create true change. Since NAMI’s inception in 1979, the organization has been dedicated to the mission of preserving and perpetuating a culture of compassion and kindness. The power of its history is tied to the vision of simultaneously embracing and creating change in order to louden the voices of individuals and families’ needs. In the coming months, NAMI will continue to discuss this topic and share what they find with the public through a report and other initiatives.

At the very least, these conversations are taken back to share with other stakeholders, imbedded in strategic plans as priorities or brought into our everyday lives. Slowly but surely, thoughts turn into whispers, whispers turn into dialogue and dialogue turns into action. 


NOV, 30, 2015 08:41:30 PM
I have the same thing as Beth. My grandson was diagnosed with ADD as a young boy. He is now 29 and is not living up to his potential. He has not self confidence. I think he is medicating with beer and whatever! He has a college degree by the skin of his teeth but he is not trying to get a good job in his field. He gets jobs that his friends tell him about, like working in a store or bar.

NOV, 30, 2015 09:51:28 AM
Our biggest hurdle is not the consumer's unwillingness. Its the total lack of available services unless he has insurance (which he does not). Our local mental health system has a year or more wait for a therapist and the one who prescribes meds did only a very cursory assessment, then renewed meds and won't see him again for six months. However THANK YOU NAMI for this info and for your ongoing dedication. I am a member and encourage others to join and support all that you do.

NOV, 25, 2015 08:19:45 PM
The moment I entered your building, I felt hmmm....embraced with strength and compassion. I was sooo frustrated with the great mystery takeover of 2015, I was sinking quickly and burning through my options. I wasn't slipping though the cracks; I was plummeting through an abyss! It's amazing the difference you've made. It's pretty simple to get "oh, that's terrible but we don't have a program for THAT!" At no point have I been embarrassed to tell people about NAMI. It's actually a good conversation opener. Sometimes all you have to do is get the discussion started, and then in no time I'm able to explain PTSD without feeling like I have a giant label on my forehead. If I had a visible challenge, I feel people would make an effort to understand. For all you do... Thank you!

NOV, 15, 2015 12:31:25 AM
I have issue with my 29 years old son. He was diagnosed with ADD when he was a little boy.
He himself would like a therapy.
Would like an initial discussion of our problems.
Thank you.

NOV, 06, 2015 05:19:33 PM
This is a great introduction to how you, as a committed organization, think and feel. The way you "see" is certainly in line with my own way and my approach to working with all people. As a former licensed master social worker, I now do not see persons with challenges as having mental illness, but in the process of "healing". Respect!

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