Up to 1 in 4 Americans from early adolescence through adulthood are suffering with a mental health condition. That’s well over 60 million people.
Daunting to address? Yes. Hopeless?
Far from it.
In fact, a spirit of optimism permeated Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s mental health and wellness forum held in downtown Oakland on Oct. 2.
“We want those with mental health conditions and the people who care about them to break the silence together, as a community,” said Don Mordecai, MD, Kaiser Permanente national leader for mental health and wellness. “Our goal is to create a culture of acceptance and support, and help end stigma for good.”
The forum, organized by Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s External and Community Affairs Department in support of its extensive Community Health portfolio, was co-sponsored by NAMI California and attended by local elected officials, community partners in the field, and mental health leaders and professionals.
In opening remarks, Janet Liang, Kaiser Permanente Northern California regional president, recognized the hundreds of attendees for the important work they do and acknowledged those who directly serve Kaiser Permanente members and patients. “Thanks to our over 1,000 therapists and psychiatrists who on an everyday basis provide the care, comfort, compassion, and therapy to our patients who need them.”
One was Richard Freed, PhD, a child and adolescent psychologist at Kaiser Permanente in Antioch and leading authority on raising children in this era of digital overload. The author of the book Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age told the audience that among his young patients he has seen video games, social media, and texting eclipse their connections to family and school, leaving some kids isolated and sad. “When we talk with families, let’s help them parent like a tech exec. Bill and Melinda Gates, for example, set strong limits on their own kids’ use of technology.”
Kaiser Permanente’s Commitment
Kaiser Permanente contributed $1.5 million in 2 mental health grants to North Bay fire victims and recently completed new or refurbished behavioral health facilities in 5 cities, with 12 more planned, according to Liang.
In addition, Shellie Kahane, MD, MPH, chief of Mental Health and Addiction at Kaiser Permanente and associate chair of chiefs for Regional Mental Health, said that embedding therapists in primary care clinics is just one way the organization is meeting patients where they are.
She also referenced the new Connect 2 Care Telepsychiatry Program that is rolling out in Northern California, in which “our members are now able to call, speak with a therapist, and start treatment the same day or the next day.”
“Today we’re pleased to hear about some of the rich and far-reaching work being accomplished by the 25 community health organizations we are partnering with to reduce stigma around mental illness,” said Yvette Radford, regional vice president of External and Community Affairs. “Together we are making a positive difference to people throughout Northern California.”
Social Media’s Impact
Two guests illustrated the contrasting sides of social media’s impact on mental wellness.
Jean Twenge, PhD, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, showed a series of sobering graphs pointing toward the dramatic increase in teen low self-esteem, loneliness, self-harm, and depression since the 2012 proliferation of the smart phone. Her advice? “We’re not going to put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to technology. The solution seems to be limited use.”
Shanti Das, an author, motivational speaker, and former music industry executive, shared how she re-evaluated a successful career while suffering from depression. Her creation of a grassroots mental health awareness campaign, “Silence the Shame,” showed the flip side of social media — its power as a communication tool to share and educate about mental illness.
Successful Yet Struggling
Actress Gabourey Sidibe, former pro athlete and activist Chamique Holdsclaw, and hip hop artist, actor, producer, and poet Common took to the stage during the day to share how they manage their own mental health.
Personal accounts ranged from Holdsclaw’s growing crises resulting in her hitting rock bottom amid what had been a successful professional basketball career, to Sidibe remembering uninterrupted days of despondency in which she doubted her talents and self-worth.
However, the 2 reported finding relief in therapy and medication. And they shared the joy that their gifts have given them — as well as the individuals in their lives who have offered help.
For Holdsclaw, it was legendary basketball coach Pat Summit. Sidibe reported that her best friend can tell from one text if something isn’t right.
Common discussed how he meditates and goes to therapy to stay healthy, as well as dedicating part of his time to his Common Ground Foundation, a leadership program for underserved high-schoolers.
Addressing the Stigma
Kaiser Permanente’s “Find Your Words” campaign is entering its third year. On Oct. 1, a new commercial, “Depression Doesn’t Always Look Like Depression” was released in social media and advertising channels.
The public health awareness effort continues to normalize the issue while empowering people with relevant tools for coping or supporting those they care about, according to Dr. Mordecai.
“Typically, fewer than half of people suffering mental illness will receive treatment, and far fewer than half will receive evidence-based treatment,” he said. “We’ve got a real gap there that we can all be part of addressing. We know that stigma is part of what creates that gap. It’s a barrier to seeking treatment for mental health, and we at Kaiser Permanente are continuing to work to break down that stigma.”