Campaign focuses on ‘five signs’

NASW joins Give an Hour in nationwide mental health effort: Campaign to Change Direction.

Michelle ObamaFirst lady of the United States Michelle Obama speaks at the launch event for the Campaign to Change Direction at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on March 4. NASW CEO Angelo McClain was part of a panel discussion at the event. Give an Hour is leading the campaign, which aims to change perceptions about mental illness in the U.S.

U.S. veteran Jennifer Madden (photo below) joined the military at the age of 17, and her first day of training was on Sept. 11, 2001.

She served in Afghanistan as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom — driving through minefields, pulling security details during attacks, and watching friends die.

“I, like many soldiers, left a part of me in the sandbox,” Madden said. “I suffer from chronic PTSD. Reintegration was something I didn’t know how to do when I returned home and I just no longer fit in anywhere in my own life.”

Madden shared her story — and the stage, with keynote speaker first lady Michelle Obama — at the Campaign to Change Direction launch event, held March 4 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Madden said when she returned home from war, she sought help through Give an Hour, a nonprofit organization that provides free mental health services to U.S. military personnel and their families who have been affected by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, Madden is a licensed practical nurse, the mother of two children and a national speaker on post-traumatic stress disorder.

Give an Hour launched the Campaign to Change Direction, which urges all Americans to learn five signs that indicate someone they know may have

mental distress. The campaign is a collection of citizens and nonprofit and private-sector leaders who have joined to bring awareness in America to mental health, mental illness and wellness. The campaign’s purpose is to spark a nationwide movement that encourages care of mental well-being, creating a common language to recognize the signs of emotional suffering, and giving equal weight to mental and physical health.

NASW is one of the campaign’s founding members and pledges to work with its members to educate the public about recognizing the five signs that someone may have a mental illness.

Michelle Obama said during the event that every year roughly one in five adults — or more than 40 million Americans — experiences a diagnosable mental health condition, like depression or anxiety. Young people are also affected at similar rates, she said, and these conditions touch people of every age and background.

“At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country; when it comes to mental health conditions, we often try to treat them differently from other diseases like cancer, diabetes or asthma, and that makes no sense,” Obama said. “We know that mental health is just as important for our overall well being as our physical health. There should be absolutely no stigma around mental health. None. Zero. In this country when you’re fighting an illness, whether you’re fighting something that is mental or physical, you should be able to get the help you need — end of story.”

Randy Phelps, Norman Anderson, Saul Levin, and Angelo McClainA panel called Our Mental Health Association Partners-Accepting the Challenge was part of the Campign to Change Direction event in March at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. From left: Moderator Randy Phelps; CEO/EVP of the American Psychological Association Norman Anderson; CEO/Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Foundation Saul Levin; and NASW CEO Angelo McClain.

NASW CEO Angelo McClain spoke on a panel at the event called Our Mental Health Association Partners — Accepting the Challenge. CEOs of major U.S. mental health associations also spoke on the panel.

“These associations were very important in this campaign because together they represent approximately 200,000 mental health practitioners nationwide,” said panel moderator Randy Phelps, senior adviser at the American Psychological Association. And social workers outnumber the rest as mental health practitioners in the country, he added.

McClain said during the panel discussion that NASW has fully embraced the notion that behavioral health is essential to health; that prevention works; that treatment is effective; and that recovery is possible. He talked about NASW’s efforts in spreading mental health and well-being awareness, including media outreach, NASW’s Help Starts Here website, and awards programs.

Help Starts Here is focused on helping the public understand mental health and mental illness, he said, as well as emotional well-being topics such as depression, grief and anxiety.

McClain pointed out that the website has received 50,000 to 60,000 monthly visits over the years.

“Through our members, we are connecting with thousands of journalists across the country to educate the public about the importance of mental health and mental well-being to society,” he said. “We have an awards program, and we recognize media who have actually been putting a positive face on mental health.”

The myth is that mental illness happens to the other person, the other family, the other community, McClain said. But it touches all walks of life, and the myth creates social distance where people aren’t connected.

Jennifer MaddenU.S. veteran Jennifer Madden (photo left)

The importance of mental health and well-being was not lost on corporate America at the event. During a panel called “Corporate America — Why a Mentally Healthy Workforce is Good for the Bottom Line,” Booz Allen Hamilton Senior Vice President Joe Sifer shared his personal experience of how his own lack of attention to his well-being once held him back from his full potential.

He said supervisors encouraged him to get help, and he now does the same for his employees.

“The longer a person is at a company, there are safeguards into how careful they are (around others),” Sifer said. “But trust is fundamental. Find someone you trust, whether it’s a work colleague you’re close to, and trust them to help. Take a leap of faith.”

We’ve got to listen, Obama said, we’ve got to connect, we have to offer compassion so that friends, families, neighbors and veterans can get the help they need.

“We all know that our mental health is just as vital as our physical health. It’s time we started treating it that way. That’s going to take some courage from everybody,” she said. “If we can all just summon that strength, then I guarantee you that we will save lives in the years ahead. And soon enough, caring for our mental health won’t be considered such a courageous act. It’ll be just another part of our lives.”

Give an Hour™, which is leading the Campaign to Change Direction, is a nonprofit organization that was founded in September 2005 by Barbara Van Dahlen, a psychologist in the Washington, D.C., area. The organization’s mission is to develop national networks of volunteers capable of responding to both acute and chronic conditions that arise within society. GAH provides counseling to individuals, couples and families, and children and adolescents.

Get more information on the Campaign to Change Direction.