Dorothy Hawthorne-Burdine Summary of the 19th Annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy

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About 215 mental health leaders and advocates, including former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher convened for two days, November 5 and 6, at The Nineteenth Annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium in Atlanta to decide how to increase mental health services for children and adults and to identify new sources of funding for existing mental health services. The symposium's theme, "The President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health: Transforming the Vision" focused on a report released in July 2003, to President George W. Bush highlighting problems with the nation's mental health care system and calling on policy-makers, state officials and advocates to come up with ways to bolster care for the mentally ill. The 2-day symposium accented interventions to use in achieving the six goals identified by The Commission's roster of 23 members. Former First Lady Rosalyn Carter gave the opening remarks and the keynote speaker, Michael Hogan, Director of Ohio Department of Mental Health, identified the following six goals generated by the members of The Commission:

    (1) Americans will understand that mental health is essential to overall health;
    (2) Mental health care will be highlighted as being consumer and family driven;
    (3) Disparities in mental health services will be eliminated;
    (4) Early mental health screening, assessment, and referral to services will be emphasized as common practice;
    (5) Excellent mental health care will be delivered and research will be accelerated; and 
    (6) Technology will be used to access mental health care and information.

"Mental health is often the last hair on the hog's tail given attention by healthcare providers," said Dr. Norwood W. Knight-Richardson, commission member and CEO of the Richardson Group, a privately held consulting group. In 2002, an estimated 17.5 million adults was reported having a serious mental illness with individuals in the age range of 18 to 25 years of age holding the highest rates. And, an estimated 22 million Americans were classified as substance abusers or as dependent on alcohol, drugs or both. Suicide continues to be the leading cause of violent deaths worldwide, yet it is not a mental health priority.

Three groups of panelists discussed "Implications of Mental Health Science for Society," "Moving Science to Services," and "Strategic Implementation." Small group discussions recommended eliminating conflicting levels of state and federal bureaucracy and service gaps that impede access to care, particularly for children. The Carter Center plans to follow up and survey many of the experts and policy-makers who attended the symposium and to track the progress of their stated goals for implementing the recommendations.

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