America is at a crossroads when it comes to how our society addresses mental health. We know that one in five of our citizens has a diagnosable mental health condition, and that more Americans are expected to die this year by suicide than in car accidents. While many of us are comfortable acknowledging publicly our physical suffering, for which we almost always seek help, many more of us privately experience mental suffering, for which we almost never reach out.
The Change Direction initiative is a collection of concerned citizens, nonprofit leaders, and leaders from the private sector who have come together to change the culture in America about mental health, mental illness, and wellness. This initiative was inspired by the discussion at the White House National Conference on Mental Health in 2013, which came on the heels of the Newtown, Conn. tragedy.
By bringing together this unprecedented and diverse group of leaders we plan to spark a movement that:
- frees us to see our mental health as having equal value to our physical health
- creates a common language that allows us to recognize the signs of emotional suffering in ourselves and others
- encourages us to care for our mental well-being and the mental well-being of others
The simplest pledge is one that anyone can do. Learn the Five Signs of emotional suffering so you can recognize them in yourself or help a loved one who may be in emotional pain. In short, the Five Signs are personality change, agitation, withdrawal, decline in personal care, and hopelessness. Someone may exhibit one or more signs.
Moreover, a long and growing list of nonprofit organizations and private sector companies are making additional pledges to deliver educational tools and programs that will help change the national conversation about mental health. This collective impact effort will reach over 30 million Americans over the next five years with specific efforts focused to educate:
- military personnel, veterans, and family members
- corporate employees
- federal, state, and local government employees
- first responders
- students, teachers, school officials, and coaches
- members of the faith-based community
- health care professionals
- In 2013, Give an Hour President, Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D., put together a team after a conversation with staff from the Vice President’s office about the state of mental health in America following the tragic shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
- A number of individuals have served on the initial team formed in the spring of 2013. Current members of what is now referred to as the “steering committee” are:
- Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph., Founder and President, Give an Hour
- Paul Burke, Executive Director, American Psychiatric Foundation
- Andrea Inserra, Senior Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton
- David Park, Senior Strategist, Collaborative for Student Success
- Jon Sherin, M.D., Ph.D., Executive Vice President for Military Communities and Chief Medical Officer, Volunteers of America, Incorporated
- After studying the situation and meeting for several months, the steering committee recognized that significant knowledge and numerous resources exist to address the mental health issues and concerns that affect our citizens and burden our communities, nevertheless many in need are not receiving care.
- Despite the resources available, there is a need to improve the coordination and collaboration among stakeholders across sectors. In addition, the cultural obstacles that prevent those in need from seeking the care they deserve are significant.
- The conclusion: to improve our nation’s overall mental health we must change our culture so that mental health is seen as an important element of the human condition — something that we all have — something that we all should pay attention to.
- This conclusion fit well with Dr. Van Dahlen’s experiences working with the military/veteran community for nearly a decade. Our nation’s service members, veterans, and their families — like civilians — are often unable to acknowledge their mental health struggles and are often unwilling to seek care because of embarrassment, shame, or guilt.
- The steering committee began to explore what a national campaign to change the direction of mental health might look like. It was at this time that Dr. Van Dahlen met John Edelman, who agreed to lend the significant support of the Edelman firm to this effort.