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NARMH Conference Attendees Embrace Community Connections

September 03, 2019

Santa Fe, New Mexico, uniquely combines the charm of the mountains with the warmth of the desert and the hospitality of the Southwest. What an idyllic setting for a major conference hosted by the National Association for Rural Mental Health (NARMH).

“From Surviving to Thriving: Embracing Connections”— the 45th annual NARMH conference—was held in Santa Fe on Aug. 26-29. This conference highlighted the centrality of community entities getting connected to work collaboratively in order to improve rural life—whether in a Midwestern farm community or an Indian pueblo. The major lesson: The texture of our communities creates the fabric of our lives.

The plenary sessions carefully explored this community collaboration theme from different vantages: The Path to Thriving; Transcending Historical Trauma in American Indian Communities; and The Very Large Array of Youth and Adult Peer Support. It seemed so appropriate that the event was held at La Fonda on the Plaza, a hotel in Santa Fe reminiscent of an Indian pueblo, a place where the community gathers.

More than five dozen working sessions delved deeper into the conference theme, covering topics that ranged from preparing social work and counseling students for rural communities and types of childhood trauma specific to rural areas, to suicide prevention and stimulating investment in rural and frontier wellbeing.

All of this year’s NARMH awardees are outstanding individuals seeking to address the social justice issues of our time. The Howery Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Ann Hazlett, director of rural programs at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP); the Going to Bat Award, to Wayne Lindstrom, senior advisor at Recovery International and former director of behavioral health programs for New Mexico. The Ann Schumacher Award went to Matt Probst, the chief quality officer at El Centro Family Health; the Rural Arts Award, to Sarah Elisabeth Brown, a training specialist at Community Access. We extend warm congratulations to each of these awardees.

A very special Going to Bat Award was presented to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. In launching her administration, the governor has taken on the issues of behavioral health, disability and aging. In this effort, she is identifying persons in each community to work with those who are isolated or who are affected by these disabilities. The governor brings high energy, unbounded enthusiasm, and great determination to her quest.

A once-ever award was presented to Lu Ann Rice and the Odyssey Group for providing more than 20 years of outstanding logistical support to NARMH and the conference. Rice will be retiring at the end of this year.

In accepting her award, Anne Hazlett described three important rural tools available from ONDCP: a community assessment tool to gauge substance use in rural counties; a rural community action guide to determine a course of action; and a rural resource guide to identify funding support. Links to each of these tools will be available shortly.

At each of these conferences, something stands out in your mind. For me, this was the amazing problem-strategy-solution sequence portrayed on day one. Governor Grisham issued a crystal clear call to action; Liz Nilsen, from Purdue Agile Strategy Lab, outlined “Strategic Doing” to address community issues; and Lisse Regehr, from Thrive Allen County, recounted the amazing turnaround of Allen County Kansas. Simply striking.

You already can mark your calendar for next year’s conference. The theme will be “Beyond Treatment: Tackling Social Determinants to Improve Rural Mental Health”. The location will be Portland, Oregon, and the dates will be August 17-20, 2020.

Our hats are off to Dr. Helene Silverblatt, University of New Mexico, who served as the 2019 Conference Chair, as well as to each member of her planning and local implementation committee. Thanks ever so much for a quite memorable and outstanding conference!

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