2015_Summit_WordleThe 2015 ACMHA Summit attracted behavioral health consumers, providers, and policy makers from all over the country. The message coming from this year’s Summit was very clear: the environment is crucial to good health, and personal and community health literacy and “activation” are essential.

In his pre-Summit remarks, Prof. Joe Parks of the University of Missouri and MO Healthnet stated that those with major behavioral or substance-use disorders suffer a 25-35 year decrease in life expectancy due to health problems and/or poor quality of care in their communities.

It seems that the opinion-leaders in the field of behavioral health have shifted their focus from the treatment of disease to a much broader approach to social and physical determinants of health. Much new research is looking at what it takes to prevent disease, and more profoundly, to create well-being.

Keynote addresses by public-sector and private-sector speakers Paolo Delvecchio, MSW, Director of CMHS (Medicare), and Ray Fabius, MD, CPE, DFACPI, co-founder and President of the consulting firm HealthNEXT (PA), described discussions and research aimed at creating “a culture of health.” Delvecchio drew on personal experience in concluding that “we must flip the script” in behavioral health and focus on helping people gain the skills they need to succeed in life. Fabius stated that companies that score high on the 200-plus items of his “index of health and well-being” also outperform similar companies in terms of market valuation. He says that our next step should be, “…to move from a ‘culture of health’ to a ‘culture of well-being.’”

There were powerful presentations about communities as well. A great health program in an impoverished community will not work unless community members are encouraged to take action to understand and make use of its benefits. Among the presenters on this topic were Jei Africa, Psy.D., of California’s San Mateo County Department of Behavioral Health; Arthur Evans, Jr., Ph.D., of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health; Carole Siegel, Ph.D., of Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research (New York); Lenora Reid-Rose, MBA, contract manager of Coordinated Care Services, Inc. (New York), Sandra Mitchell, of the National Action Network (New York), and Onaje Muid, MSW, of the New York treatment-and-prevention facility Reality House, Inc. As speakers and discussants, they showed how well-planned, culturally competent interventions can both help individuals and improve communities overall health through health literacy, activation, and self-care opportunities. Reid-Rose and Mitchell focused on peer-administered, individualized cultural assessments, in which interventions focus on the needs of clients rather than of the clinical staff or agency. They said that “client interactions with ‘someone like me’” create connections beyond the clinic and into the community.

Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren of Florida’s Broward County Mental Health Court related the concept of community health-literacy and activation to the criminal justice system. She stated, “As a former disability lawyer, I understood quickly the importance of seeking support from peers to help me identify appropriate care and supports for consumers.”

As a clinical social worker, I find it extremely exciting to see so many leaders, in both public and private sectors, trying to bring about a shift away from a disease-centered treatment system and toward fostering a culture of well-being. Such a culture can democratize what we do, by helping consumers become true partners in creating healthy communities. It can give hope and aid to people who have been made to feel abandoned and invisible. Clinical social workers, especially, have an important role to play in systems that improve the health and well-being of people and communities.

Image via ACMHA website.

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