This is the time of year when a lot of us reflect and take stock of the past 12 months. As I look back at 2007 from an organizational perspective, I see several national mental health trends that have emerged, such as the:
- Growing recognition of the effectiveness and importance of peer support
- Crucial need to address our military's mental health needs
- Expanded use of technology to provide more people with better access to information and resources
- Strong movement to win support in Congress for mental health parity, increased recognition and treatment of postpartum depression and Medicaid coverage for peer support services
- Newly-accepted idea of whole-health treatment-the idea that mental health must be treated as a fundamental component of overall physical health
- Gradual change in provider services toward a consumer-centered, recovery-oriented approach to treatment.
Below, I've summarized some of the programs and services DBSA built to prepare for, and address, these trends. While I start with support groups because they're core to our work, the rest are in no particular order of importance.
Growth in Peer-Led Support Groups
We had a 17.7% increase in chapters and an 18.6% increase in support groups. And groups all across the country are becoming more active than ever before. We've seen them do everything from offering new training classes like "Living Successfully with a Mood Disorder" to "Pathways to Recovery" to WRAP. They're also offering new services with, and for, hospitals so that people have a link back to the community during and after hospitalization. And support groups are doing more stigma-busting through local media campaigns like Depression is Real.
Peers as Providers
By now, many people have been trained through DBSA to become (and to be paid as) peer specialists in clinics, hospitals and state mental health systems. We're working on new types of peer programs, too: smoking cessation peer specialists, diet and weight peer specialists and peer specialists who help fellow consumers make the transition out of the hospital. We've been pushing legislation that helps fund these positions, offering technical assistance to groups wanting to start these programs and working on new career paths as well.
Like everyone in the country, we're very worried about our military coming back from service in Afghanistan and Iraq experiencing PTSD and other mental illnesses. I learned recently in a meeting that 1.5 million men and women had been deployed to Iraq alone. Even though less than one-third of vets visit a mental health clinic within their first year back home, many VA clinics are saying they've already exceeded capacity.
This is an area of great concern, and DBSA has been advocating diligently in Washington for increased funding for peer support/specialist programs as one way to solve the problem. We've been tapped by many of the VA networks around the country to train recently returned vets to become peer specialists.
Expanded Use of Technology
What does this mean? It means we've been working to go beyond simply offering a brochure to providing new technology-based resources to reach people when and where they need us. This year saw our new Real Recovery Podcasts; our new online chats; this blog; online-delivered education; consumer-created videos, audio files and art; our new online mood charting; and our brand-new Facing Us Clubhouse which is a very cool, new recovery tools website that I hope you'll check out.
We've been more active than ever before on national legislative and policy issues. I have been on Capitol Hill many times this year to meet with numerous legislators, trying to educate them about mental health and offering them resources they can use as they consider various policy issues. The DBSA Legislative Action Center has seen increased activity this year: thanks to the DBSA family, more than 10,000 letters on various issues have gone out to members of Congress! Some of the issues of highest concern have been insurance parity, increased use of peer services and Medicare/Medicaid reform.
There's such a connection between our physical and mental health. You've no doubt heard that consumers are dying 25 years earlier than the general population-primarily because of smoking, obesity and lack of general medical care. Did you know that consumers smoke 44% of the cigarettes in this country? We have a great survey on our website to help us understand what helps peers stop smoking. We'll be using that information to help redesign traditional smoking cessation tools so that they'll work better for us. You cannot talk to me about becoming healthier if I'll just stop smoking, when all I want to do is die. Those messages just do not work. We've also been working on a very cool, five-week, peer-delivered Healthy Lifestyles training course that addresses our whole health-physical and mental.
State Mental Health Systems
Much of the work in creating and designing mental health care systems is done at the state level. And DBSA was very pleased to have been tapped this year by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) to offer technical assistance to state mental health systems nationwide. We offered technical assistance to help consumers more effectively engage in state systems and to learn how to best set up certified peer specialist programs.
The Seven Dirty Words
I came up with the "Seven Dirty Words" really fast one day before a meeting with psychiatry department deans from across the country, and they've since gained a life of their own. It's not the words themselves that are important. What's important is that they show there's still a disconnect between doctors and consumers-a disconnect that's obvious in the different meanings we each give to words/phrases like "compliance," "the patient failed the treatment" or "treatment resistance." DBSA has done a lot of technical assistance to professional groups to help them transition to new, recovery-oriented language ... which means a relationship that is a recovery-oriented partnership with their patients/clients.
Over the past year, DBSA has worked with more than a dozen major insurance companies to help them become more in synch with a consumer-centered, recovery- oriented system of care. We help them understand what recovery is, what the needs are of consumers who hold their policies and how to revamp the way they deliver and pay for care, to make it person-centered. We have a lot more work to do, but this is a beginning.
So, what do you think? I'd love to hear your ideas on ways DBSA can build upon the work outlined above or expand in new directions. Do you have any areas of particular concern that you'd like us to address?
Published On: December 20, 2007
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