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April 16, 2013 by Gina Nikkel, PhD, President & CEO

Notes from Vegas: National Council Annual Conference 2013

National Council Conference April 8-10, 2013. Las Vegas, NV

For those of you who have never been to a National Council Conference, it really is a masterpiece to behold. Jeannie Campbell, the National Council’s assistant director, runs a tight ship and since she came to the National Council from the Navy she knows how to do that. It is almost overwhelming.

There is so much to see, learn, re-learn and people to connect with; a conference book store, lunch and learns, experts on many aspects of behavioral health available for consult, movie nights, over 500 vendors, specialty tracks, break-out sessions and top notch speakers. There were over 3,500 attendees this year and I want to give you a flavor of the speakers and connections that I made. It was great to have board members Fran Silvestri and Bob Nikkel in attendance as well as one of FEMHC’s grant recipients, Dr. Chris Gordon.I noticed more of a theme about moving to a recovery focused system and that we need to reframe mental health challenges as a public health issue and not a social issue.

Jeannie Campbell, Fran Silvestri and I are talking about having an Open Dialogue presentation at next years conference in Washington, D.C., May 5-7, 2014.

Linda Rosenberg, Executive Director of the National Council, opened up the conference by saying “This is our moment. We are standing on the precipice of a new frontier foretold 50 years ago when JFK passed the Mental Health Act. This new frontier is only now coming into view. This is our moment to shape community behavioral healthcare as it was meant to be. The science is on our side and the public policy within reach. If we let this moment pass, history will judge that we were too timid or too afraid or just weren’t paying attention. This is our moment to write history.”

Doris Kearns-Goodwin talked about presidential leadership and the lessons of history. She also discussed how notable presidents tackled issues of their times such as slavery and civil rights. With healthcare reform being the next elephant to tackle she believes mental health care is at a tipping point to either get done right within the next two years or risk grave harm to our society.

Dr. Bruce Perry talked about adverse childhood events and how we must do a better job of funding connectedness and keeping people out of poverty, weaving together the neurobiology of relationship, reward, and regulation.

Adam Bryant, New York Times Columnist and Pulitzer prize winner, spoke about unexpected lessons from the world’s top CEO’s and 5 qualities that set leaders apart: passionate curiosity, battle-hardened confidence, team smarts, a simple mindset and fearlessness.

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of HHS, spoke eloquently about recovery, the President’s National Dialogue coming soon to a city near you and how we all need to pay attention to his announcement. She also elaborated on reframing mental health challenges as a public health issue.

Atul Gawande spoke about the connection between primary care and mental health care and that we all need to work together much more efficiently. He believes that good healthcare cannot be reduced to a recipe. We need to also rely on tacit knowledge……not everything can be reduced to precise instruction. His quote for the day….” One of the most exciting places to be right now is behavioral healthcare as we figure out how to integrate mental health into the mainstream.”

Pam Hyde, Administrator at SAMHSA, stressed that we must reframe mental health as a public health issue and that we can’t have healthy communities without good emotional health. We have a tendency to focus only on treatment but that is only part of the solution. We must prevent disease first by having structures and policies in place to prevent first and treat second.

There was lots of exciting networking and reconnecting with old friends as well as meeting new partners in creating the new mental health mainstream. The atmosphere was electric and empowering.

Dr. Mike Hogan, former New York Mental Health Commissioner and I talked about the FEMHC’s next board advance. Mike will be joining us at our annual October Advance (I’m changing the name from ‘retreat’) to facilitate our strategic planning session.

Patrick Kennedy finished up the conference with a charismatic speech about what he has personally gone through and the advent of his new foundation, One Mind 4 Research, in which they will focus on brain research to map common genomes that cause mental illness. While Patrick’s intentions and visibility are wonderful, I am concerned that this is heading towards a “pill” solution for a brain disease. Trauma and adverse childhood events were not part of the discussion but he does identify the trauma of war in our veterans diagnosed with PTSD as a very real issue. He was greeted as a rock star and the frenzy was palpable.

Mr. Kennedy will be holding a Mental Health Forum on October 23rd and 24th, 2013 in Boston to create this generation’s mental health message. He believes that this is a teachable moment in a historic march towards progress for mental health treatment. He also indicated that ‘this is a revolutionary time where we should be astronauts in inner space focused on the head.’

He asked what our Sputnik will be…..meaning what will cause the U.S. to finally pay attention to mental health care?  He believes it’s PTSD and the war on terror. The war on terror has sent terror home with our troops to live with in the form of PTSD. He believes this issue will make congress deal with the whole of mental health care.

He wants to make sure that every young person is raised with the idea that you must get a “check up from the neck up.”

So this is a brief synopsis. I connected with so many people and there were many more speakers in which I have not capsulized their presentations into sound bites.

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