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Mental health community begins to build momentum for policy recommendations

December 27, 2012
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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As the nation still mourns the loss of the young children and school teachers in Newtown, CT, whose lives were taken senselessly in the recent tragedy, mental health and substance use professionals are joining together to make their voices heard.

Ron Manderscheid, PhD, says that during the second call last Thursday, more input was gathered from those who offered it, the group came to a consensus, and it was announced that the National Call to Action would be completed by Friday at noon.  As promised, the final letter was completed by noon and sent out by 3 p.m. to the President, the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and the Majority Leaders and Minority Leaders of the House and Senate. 

Manderscheid reports that “we have email acknowledgements” that these targeted people had received the National Call.

The final Call went out with 105 signers on Friday, including individuals and organizations.  Some of the organizations on the list include Mental Health America, NAADAC, Young People in Recovery, NYAPSRS, National Association for Children's Behavioral Health, and National Council.

Since the Call has been sent, Manderscheid and Eric Goplerud, PhD, have been working to get the word out in other ways as well. 

“I used my blog on behavioral.net to allow people to link back to the original commentary which came from the preceding Saturday morning, and then the letter was linkable there so they could send their own letter,” says Manderscheid.  

“There’s been a lot of secondary effects of people sending their own letters as well,” he explains.  Although some people who send their own letter make it known, he admits that they may never know how many people send in their own letters because not everyone tells them when they’ve done it.

Another thing that’s happened in the past week is that the group has created a link on www.change.org.  This website system is a place to go and create a petition.  “When you do this,” Manderscheid explains, “you can designate who you want the petition to go to. We wanted the petition to go to these same specific people, so we designated those people in the online url.”

From there, Manderscheid and Goplerud have used their connections and resources to broadly send out requests for signatures.  “Obviously the sign-on has been a little slower this week, because so many people are taking their vacation time. We don’t expect there to be much activity on that site until the first of the year, when we will basically crank it up again.”

Voice of America caught on to the Call and interviewed Manderscheid for a video report.  There were also other articles in newspapers around the country that discussed this national call-to-action.  Early this week, a cover page article was published highlighting this movement in Mental Health Weekly.

Manderscheid is positive about the reception the letter has been getting in the field.  Additionally, he says it “seems to have gotten good reception in these newspaper articles.  People are not saying ‘these people from the mental health and substance use field are out to lunch,’ they’re saying ‘we need to do something about this.’”

As for the recipients of the Call, Manderscheid comments that “I don’t expect much activity this week because most people simply aren’t around [due to holiday vacations].” 

He explains that the President was going away to Hawaii for the weekend, the Speaker of the House had closed the House the day before the letter was sent, and the Senate was closed.  Today, he said they are both open again.

“They aren’t going to be thinking about us today, they are going to be thinking about the Fiscal Cliff for the next couple of days,” he admits.

To add to that, he says another large transition is approaching because on Jan. 3, a new Congress will be present, “so the current people only have a few days left.” 

Also, Manderscheid says that the articles he’s been reading are saying that it’s not certain that John Boehner will be reelected Speaker of the House.  “And if he isn’t, then we have to go back to whoever the new Speaker of the House is and start over again.  And we won’t know that until the second week in January,” he says.

With all of these ingredients in the mixing bowl at one time, Manderscheid notes that this is probably not happening at the best possible time to be effective, but says they aren’t going to give up. 

“We’re going to go back and we’ll ask, ‘why haven’t we heard from you?’ and keep pursuing this with the national figures we’re after, including the Vice President and the committee that he has been appointing,” he explains.

President Obama appointed Vice President Biden to be in charge of following up on gun control and mental health. He has now been appointing people, and Manderscheid says that from what he’s heard, all of the people he’s appointed to this work group are department secretaries:

·        Secretary of Health and Human Services

·        Secretary of Education

·        Attorney General

·        Secretary of Homeland Security

“These people were identified by the president in his comment, and the VP has already appointed these people. Whether he will appoint other people, I don’t know,” says Manderscheid.

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