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Dynamic Progress from Stigma Toward Inclusion: The Annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy

November 03, 2012

On Thursday and Friday, November 1st and 2nd, Former First Lady Mrs. Rosalynn Carter convened her 28th Annual Symposium on Mental Health Policy at the Carter Center in Atlanta. This year’s convocation addressed a very important current theme: “Beyond Stigma: Advancing the Social Inclusion of People with Mental Illnesses.” Keynote speakers included Dr. Elyn Saks, Glenn and Jessie Close, and Dr. Graham Thornicroft.

With exceptional enthusiasm and great energy, two hundred Symposium participants affirmed that we are, in fact, experiencing a national transformational change—we are moving beyond stigma. New approaches to housing, employment, and integrated care are changing our communities, and they are changing us. How very exciting on the eve of implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)!

Examples from the US, the UK, and Australia all document that stigma can and is being reduced. These instances also show that community social support and inclusion can be enhanced for mental health consumers. Such improved connections with one’s community do lead to enhanced self-esteem and more effective participation in community life. Symposium participants, themselves, actually showed these characteristics of community inclusion and participation in their interactions.

The Symposium was highlighted by the presentation to Mrs. Carter of a new Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, “Mental Illnesses: Results from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System”. This important work reports the very first efforts to document stigma state by state. Such information will permit much more effective targeting of stigma-reducing interventions. This project is a joint effort of CDC and SAMHSA. In her response, Mrs. Carter expressed hope that this critical report would just be the first of many to come.

Symposium participants also engaged in workgroups that addressed public health, law and policy, services, and research issues around stigma and inclusion. Highlights from these discussions include unanimous support for the creation of national Healthy People 2020 objectives on wellbeing, health related quality of life, and participation for persons with mental illnesses, and emphasis on policies that promote the full and rapid implementation of the ACA, including more effective service integration and better translation of research into practice.

As is typical of Mrs. Carter’s Symposia, participants concluded the event in a large Town Hall Meeting. All demonstrated great enthusiasm to advocate for and to implement the agenda developed over the two day meeting. Under the leadership of Dr. Thom Bornemann, the Carter Center Mental Health Program will be preparing summaries and next steps going forward.

In a related development, we wish to extend our very best birthday wishes to Mrs. Carter, who celebrated a milestone birthday very recently.

As most of you already know, Mrs. Carter has provided outstanding leadership to the mental health field for more than four decades. Her work began well in advance of President Carter’s first-ever Mental Health Commission and extends to the present day. No other national figure of Mrs. Carter’s prominence has achieved such a stellar record. How can we ever adequately thank her for helping us to move our field from hopelessness to recovery, and from stigma to inclusion?

Mrs. Carter, we all take our hats off to salute you for an exceptional 28th Symposium and for more than two score years of wonderful national leadership. A very happy birthday, and many more!

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