Earlier this week, Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter reached another major milestone. On November 20 and 21, she hosted her 30th Annual Symposium on Mental Health Policy at the Carter Center. More than 200 guests from the national mental health and substance use communities joined her in celebrating this landmark event.
The purpose of the Annual Symposium is to engage in productive and respectful dialogue about major mental health and substance use policy concerns confronting us, such as stigma, care access, service integration, and recovery, in order to identify and reach consensus about useful next steps and solutions. The 30th Symposium examined these key issues plus several others, yet also provided an opportunity to celebrate the major accomplishments of the past three decades. Much of the progress that has been made clearly is due to Mrs. Carter’s long-term leadership and persistence in pursuing very important national goals such as insurance parity.
Highlights of the 30th Symposium included the opening keynote address by King Davis, a major leader in the mental health field. In his inimitable way, Dr. Davis reached into the past to help clarify our current realities, and then ventured some speculations about 2044, 30 years hence. At that time, he believes that the organized services we take for granted today will be gone—replaced by services personally customized around genetics and behavior. He also speculates that technology of all types will play a major role at that time in connecting consumers and providers.
The final panel offered another wonderful opportunity to reflect on the past and to look forward. In less than two hours, this panel of field leaders reviewed the Carter Mental Health Commission and Mental Health Systems Act (Steve Sharfstein), the Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health (David Satcher), the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health (Mike Hogan), and the IOM study on coordinated care (Allen Daniels). To look forward, the panel also included an engaging update on the emergent politically-active peer movement (Leah Harris). Led by Mary Jane England, this panel showed very clearly that the work of the field actually is cumulative and moving in the direction of increased social justice.
An important innovation this year was the inclusion of four concurrent sessions each day to discuss developments on the ground. Day 1 topics included parity, the Carter Center Liberia Program, trauma-informed care for children and adolescents, and supported housing and employment. Day 2 topics included the Affordable Care Act, research to practice, advances in addiction science and treatment, and achieving wellness through whole health.
Quite engaging and provocative plenary panels were held on Building Healthy Communities, Building Quality and Access through Collaboration, and Developing Leaders for Tomorrow. Each represents an important frontier area for our field in which short-term progress will be essential.