Bassey Ikpi, New York Times bestselling author of “I’m Telling The Truth But I’m Lying,” discussed writing her book and the moment she was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. “So many of the books I’ve read about mental illness, and specifically Black mental illness, were statistic-based…It didn’t feel like anything and I wanted people to feel it,” she said.
“One of the things I had the most difficult time with was not knowing who I was,” she said of her experience after being diagnosed. She was suddenly unsure of her true personality.
Ikpi also recognized and thanked the mental health professionals and advocates in attendance: “I wanted to be here because of the role mental health professionals have played in my life. It is because of them that I am here…You are saving so many lives in ways that I hope you understand…what you do has saved me more times than I can count.”
Four of MHA’s Young Mental Health Leaders, Breanna Kennedy, Mahmoud Khedr, Melanie Zhou, and Catherine Delgado took the stage for a conversation with AVP of Peer and Youth Advocacy, Kelly Davis. The young leaders spoke about the experience of being told by adults that as a young person, your problems are small. “Kids just want to be listened to,” said Breanna Kennedy.
Mahmoud Khedr emphasized the need for finding out why young people are experiencing unprecedented anxiety and called for systemic change. “If we’re not looking at the underlying causes and what is causing that stress, than we’re going to fail them,” he said.
Kelly Davis presented MHA’s 2022 mPower award to Sam Gerry. The mPower award celebrates the life and work of a teen or young adult who has spoken out about mental health issues to educate his or her peers and fight stigma. Sam is a 20-year-old rising junior at Bates College and the co-founder of Kick It for a Cause, Inc., a charity kickball tournament-turned-nonprofit organization supporting suicide prevention.
MHA’s 2022 George Goodman Brudney and Ruth P. Brudney Social Work Award was presented to Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW. The award recognizes significant contributions made to the care and treatment of people living with mental illnesses by practicing professionals in the field of social work. Freedenthal accepted the award in person and spoke about how for decades she hid her own depression and suicidal ideation. ”I was afraid the stigma of mental illness would harm my career as a mental health professional,” she said. Freedenthal said that ultimately she chose to share her lived experience to help people who still must hide their mental illness and who still have a lot to lose.
MHA’s 2022 Richard Van Horn Innovation in Programming Award was presented to the Mental Health Association in New Jersey for the New Jersey Mental Health Players program. The award recognizes the continuing innovation and creativity of an MHA affiliate in program development and implementation. Lynette Sheard accepted the award in person and told the audience: “Let’s inspire creativity. Let’s be brave. Let’s fight in the open. Let’s stay well…don’t set yourself on fire to keep other people warm, let self-care be your superpower.”
MHA’s 2022 Betty Humphrey Equity Champion Award was presented to Open Paths Counseling Center. The award is given to an individual or organization for demonstrating an ongoing commitment to the fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Sierra Smith accepted the award on behalf of Open Paths Counseling Center, which has been at the forefront of serving low-income clients and communities in Los Angeles for over 40 years. In her acceptance speech, Sierra recalled that when she started at Open Paths in 2016, the therapists that the center was training came primarily from Los Angeles’ more affluent communities. She noticed a disconnect. “We had to pivot,” she said, and she led the shift toward bringing in clinicians who were representative of the communities that the center served.
MHA’s 2022 Joseph de Raismes III Policy Award was presented to Cynthia Wainscott. The award honors an individual who – like Raismes – makes outstanding contributions to furthering mental health policy. In her acceptance speech, Wainscott spoke about her inspiration to continue being a mental health advocate. She said her inspiration comes from two things: an impactful day volunteering at Central State Hospital in Georgia and her experience with intergenerational family mental illness.
MHA’s 2022 Media Awards were presented to journalists Lindsay Holmes and Catherine Pearson for their article, “If You Have A Mood Disorder, You May Now Be Eligible For A COVID Booster”; to the WBIR Newsroom and Production Team for WBIR’s Mental Health Monday; and to Well Beings & Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness.
Lindsay Holmes accepted the award virtually noting that, “The pandemic has only underscored the fact that mental health is health.”
Emily Wakefield and Katie Inman accepted for WBIR. “It’s not about how pretty our shots were or how well-crafted our research, it’s about making a difference in our community,” said Wakefield.
Christopher Ewers was part of the group accepting for Well Beings and Hiding in Plain Sight. “I don’t think there’s a single human being on the planet who is not directly or indirectly affected by mental health challenges…it is time we start talking about it,” he said.
MHA VP of Partnerships and Community Outreach Dr. America Paredes led a breakout session on language, culture, and mental health literacy. “There’s a lack of culturally and linguistically relevant, responsive providers and treatment options,” she said, “Language is not the main issue. It’s one of the issues. At the end of the day, it’s about seeking out people who understand your culture.”
Rita Sitney of the U.S. Army led a breakout session on music as a coping strategy to reduce stress during COVID-19. “If you’re listening to the right music, it can help you get to a neutral, calm state where your well-being improves,” she said, “We saw yesterday how music has an impact. What Andy Grammer did was take his emotions and thoughts and use them to communicate and connect with people around him.”
Wendell Potter of the Center for Health and Democracy co-led a breakout session on breaking down the insurance barrier to equitable mental health care. “You have to become a squeaky wheel,” he said, “You have to take your case to someone who can be an advocate for you – a doctor, lawyer, or member of the media.”
Donta Gee of NAMI co-led a breakout session on the pandemic and poetry. “When we share in these spaces, I can say one, you’re not alone, and I can leave knowing I’m not alone,” she said.
Pierluigi Mancini, MHA Board Chair-elect and President of the Multicultural Development Institute, Inc. led a breakout session on Latino Mental Health. “Equality only works when everyone starts in the same place,” he said.