A press release issued May 1 from Fairfield County Community Foundation:
With May nationally recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, Fairfield County Community Foundation (FCCF) released a new report, Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities, that highlights more than 70 hours of “Community Conversations on Mental Health” that took place this past year across cities and towns in Fairfield County.
The report includes challenges, recommendations for solutions, and action steps.
“Mental illness is one of the few remaining taboo subjects in our society,” said Juanita James, president and CEO of Fairfield County Community Foundation. “Yet with nearly one out of five Fairfield County residents experiencing a mental health problem, it’s time to remove the stigma and ensure whoever needs help can access quality services and treatment.”
The Community Conversations on Mental Health were a joint initiative of FCCF, Connecticut’s Southwest Regional Mental Health Board and local chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They were organized to answer President Obama’s call on June 3, 2013, for a National Dialogue on Mental Health that he issued in response to the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The conversations included 14 groups of 10 to 15 community residents who participated in a series of two to four discussions (guided by a trained facilitator) leading to recommendations for local action.
Margaret Watt, executive director of Southwest Regional Mental Health Board, said: “The conversations gave people a place to share their stories, from concerns about the homeless to frustration with insurance companies. Everyone came together around finding ways to make a difference locally.”
Reported more fully in Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities, the following are highlights of the participants’ discussions:
Community Challenges and Solutions
Challenges are in bold and suggested solutions are in bullet points.
Increase awareness of mental illness
- Mental health fairs at schools
- Mental health presentations for parents
- Help children manage their emotions
- Ensure all students have a positive personal connection with an adult
- Expand school-based health centers
Fight stigma and discrimination
- Create a mental health coordinator or task force at town and city levels.
- Start LETS (Let’s Erase the Stigma) clubs in schools
Inform the public about how to seek help
- Increase visibility of 211 and mental health services on town websites and via poster campaigns for schools
Increase access to quality care
- Create collaborations between public and private provider agencies
- Identify alternative health insurance to better cover mental health expenses
Meet the unique needs of diverse groups (namely, those in high pressure “achievement cultures” and Hispanics “living in the shadows”)
- For the “achievement culture”: Alter required school courses, homework loads and grading policies
- For Hispanics: Provide mental health services in shelters; conduct culturally-appropriate mental health campaigns in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods; inform community leaders of immigrants’ unique challenges
Action Steps Currently Being Taken
Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities also reports action steps currently being taken in Fairfield County. Highlights include:
- Mental health fairs are being organized in Fairfield County schools and towns.
- Mental Health First Aid trainings are being widely offered.
- Frequent showings of films such as No Kidding? Me, Too! and The Anonymous People are raising consciousness.
- In May 2014 area hospitals, health departments, providers and civic organizations are co-sponsoring a county-wide anti-stigma and public education via email.
- New Canaan is highlighting the 211 resource in its print materials and town website.
- Greenwich is developing a “Know Your Town” card specifically for local behavioral health services.
- A Senate bill was proposed in February 2014 to expand the role of the Office of the Healthcare Advocate.
- Newtown is proposing mental health screenings in its schools.
- In the Redding / Ridgefield / Wilton area, a new National Alliance on Mental Illness support group is being started by the participants in the “Community Conversations on Mental Health.”
“The state of our mental health affects how we think, feel and act," James said. "It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. It therefore is our hope that the insights provided in Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities will help to obliterate the stigma against mental illness and ensure every resident in Fairfield County enjoys good mental health.”
To review the Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities report in its entirety, visit www.fccfoundation.org.
The Fairfield County Community Foundation promotes the growth of community and regional philanthropy to improve the quality of life throughout Fairfield County. Individuals, families, corporations and organizations can establish charitable funds or contribute to existing funds. The Foundation also provides philanthropic advisory services, and develops and leads initiatives to tackle critical community issues. It is in compliance with the Council on Foundations’ national standards for community foundations. The Foundation has awarded more than $168 million in grants to nonprofits in Fairfield County and beyond. For more information, visit www.fccfoundation.org.
The mission of the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board is to ensure a high-quality behavioral health system that promotes recovery and well-being for all residents of southwestern Connecticut. The Southwest Regional Mental Health Board, Inc. is a citizens’ advisory group, created by State mandate to assess and promote mental health and addiction services in southwestern Connecticut. For more information, visit www.HealthyMindsCT.org.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research, and is steadfast in its commitment to raise awareness and build a community for hope for all of those in need. It is the foundation for hundreds of NAMI State Organizations, NAMI Affiliates and volunteer leaders who work in local communities across the country to raise awareness and provide essential and free education, advocacy and support group programs. Fairfield County is represented by the CT organization, NAMI-CT, as well as Fairfield and Stamford/Greenwich affiliates. For more information, visitwww.nami.org.