JUNE 3 – Today, President Barack Obama will launch a major public engagement initiative during a full-day conference at the White House. National Dialogue on Mental Health: Creating Community Solutions will include a public education campaign and national dialogue around issues of mental health. The centerpiece of the national dialogue is large-scale engagements in ten cities, including Kansas City.
In January, President Obama called for a “national conversation to increase understanding about mental health” and directed Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Arne Duncan of the U.S. Department of Education to launch the national dialogue on mental health.
The dialogue will bring 300 Americans together at each of ten sites to identify ways they can improve mental health in their families, schools and communities. Afterwards, a coalition of local groups will engage the community in implementing the action plan.
The metro Kansas City effort is co-chaired by KCK Mayor Mark Holland and KCMO Mayor Sly James, and the project is directed by Consensus, the nonprofit organization that engages the public in finding solutions to public policy issues.
According to an information brief from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “mental health problems affect nearly all families. Yet, as a nation, we struggle to have a direct and honest conversation about these issues. A sense of awkwardness, misperceptions, fears of social consequences and discrimination keep people silent despite the fact that most people with mental illnesses can and do recover and lead happy, productive and full lives in our communities.”
The dialogue about mental health has three main goals:
• Get Americans talking about mental health to break down misperceptions and promote recovery and healthy communities;
• Find innovative community-based solutions to mental health needs, with a focus on helping young people; and
• Develop clear action steps for communities to move forward in a way that complements existing local activities.
The national dialogue will give Americans a chance to learn more, from research and from each other, about mental health issues. They will encourage innovation and creativity, and will result in actions such as to prevent mental illness, promote mental health, public education and awareness, early identification, treatment, crisis response and recovery supports.
The dialogue draws on a team of national deliberative democracy groups led by Carolyn Lukensmeyer. Lukensmeyer is head of the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD), the organization founded by former Presidents Clinton and H.W. Bush after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The other groups include AmericaSpeaks, Everyday Democracy, Deliberative Democracy Consortium, National Issues Forums Institute and National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. The team is looking for ways to use the mental health project to answer research questions that will show the value of engaging the public and identify best practices.
Each local site is paired with one of the national groups. Consensus has been matched with the National Issues Forums Institute housed at the Kettering Foundation. Consensus has a ten year relationship with the Kettering Foundation and serves as one of its centers for civic life. Kansas City was named one of the ten sites in large part because of Consensus’s experience with large-scale civic engagement.
While the ten lead sites will be the focus, thousands more Americans will have the chance to participate online in moderated discussions at www.TheCivicCommons.com and at smaller forums organized by local groups using the national discussion guide.