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Mayor Gray Calls for Open Dialogue on Mental Health to Promote Healthy Communities

Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Mental health conference addresses stigma and stereotypes that may discourage treatment.
Hundreds of residents, providers, advocates, and public officials joined Mayor Vincent C. Gray in a community conversation on Saturday to better understand mental illness, talk about ways to reduce stigma associated with mental health treatment, and develop community solutions that build on existing services. Mayor Gray said that addressing mental health issues is another step towards creating the kind of city in which we all want to live.
The meeting was held in response to President Obama’s call for a national conversation on mental health to break down misperceptions and promote recovery and healthy communities.  Similar conversations are taking place in communities around the country.  
It is estimated that in any given year, one in five adults will experience a mental health challenge.   But, less than 40% receive treatment.   Further, although three-quarters of mental illnesses emerge by the age of 24, only about half of children with mental health problems receive treatment. 
“Mental health can be a complex issue but by learning more about it together, it will become easier for all of us to talk openly about mental illness.  Too often families are left on their own, or we see long time neighbors and friends struggling and we don’t know what to do,” said Stephen T. Baron, Acting Director of the Department of Behavioral Health.  “We want to get the message out that help is available and recovery is possible. Treatment works.” 
Using private keypad polling, 36% of the participants indicated they had direct experience with mental health issues, and 62% said they had direct experience with a family member or friend.  More than half of the participants registered that stigma is the most important challenge associated with mental illness while 43% voted for poverty.
More than 30,000 individuals receive treatment for mental health and/or substance use disorders in the public system primarily through about 60 community based providers certified by the District government.  Others receive help from private psychiatrists or through their private insurance.  
Meeting participants engaged in small group discussions to talk about mental health issues, and to develop community based solutions to mental health needs with a focus on helping young people. The priorities identified will become the framework of a community-wide action plan that will be developed by more than 30 representatives of community organizations, providers and advocates across the government, private and non-profit sectors.
The meeting coincided with national Mental Illness Awareness Week which runs from October 6-12, 2013.  Mayor Gray issued a proclamation recognizing Mental Illness Awareness Week in the District of Columbia.
The Department of Behavioral Health provides prevention, intervention and treatment services  and supports for children, youth and adults with mental and/or substance use disorders including emergency psychiatric care and community-based outpatient and residential services. For referral to services, call 1(888) 793-4357 or for more information, go to