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Partner Spotlight: Mental Health America

September 26th, 2016

We are happy to share our September partner spotlight, which was with Nathaniel Counts of Mental Health America. Learn more about MHA's history, as well as their current work making sure the nation's youth are properly screened for their mental health needs. In addition, Nathaniel discusses how the work of community schools meshes with the work of MHA. 


1. Can you explain the overall mission of Mental Health America? 
Mental Health America (MHA)—founded in 1909—is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all Americans. Our work is driven by our commitment to promote mental health as critical part of overall wellness, including prevention services for all, early identification and intervention for those at risk, and integrated care and treatment for those who need it, with recovery as the goal. Much of our current work is guided by the Before Stage 4 (#B4Stage4) philosophy—that mental health conditions should be treated long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process.

2. What milestones has Mental Health America already reached or is currently moving towards?
MHA has hit some very exciting milestones over the past year. We passed 1.5 million completed screens on, MHA’s free online screening tool, where many of our screens were taken by youth. Aside our new partner, Walgreens, we hope to pass 3 million screens by the end of 2017. We also expect to reach 40,000 email subscribers and 250,000 social media followers in 2017, engaging much of the public in advocacy and awareness around mental health. Additionally, we have been able to support policymakers on the Hill and across the states in pursuing legislative and regulatory changes that we think will really make a difference in the lives of individuals.
3. How does Mental Health America’s principles tie into the Community School’s principles and philosophy? How do you see your work fitting into ours?
Half of mental illnesses emerge by age 14, and ten years typically pass from the time symptoms first emerge to the time people get a final diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Waiting until people have been sick for years and a crisis event has occurred is no way to treat an illness. 
When we think about cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, we don’t wait years to treat them. We start way before Stage 4. We begin with prevention. And when people are in the first stage of those diseases with a persistent cough, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, we immediately try to reverse these symptoms.
At Mental Health America, we believe in taking a similar, before-Stage-4-approach when it comes to mental illnesses. This means addressing risk factors, like community trauma, and supporting all people with prevention services. When a person first begins to experience symptoms such as loss of sleep, feeling tired for no reason, feeling low or anxious, or hearing voices, we should not wait years to act. We should take action. Intervening as early as possible preserves education, employment, social supports, housing—and brain power! It also costs less than the unfortunate but common consequences of untreated mental illnesses like incarceration, hospitalization, and homelessness.
Consistent with the work of the Coalition for Community Schools, we see the importance of acting early and creating integrated systems that support all people in their communities. We share a focus on a person-centered approach that engages all to create the best outcomes.
4. What are some exciting things coming up for Mental Health America (i.e., events, publications)?
There is a lot of activity at MHA with many upcoming events and publications! We will be releasing our annual State of Mental Health in America report, which ranks the states on mental health including youth and adult mental health and access to care. We will also be continuing our Life on Campus resources that promote and address college mental health.
Within the next year, we will be building out our anonymous, online screening program into screening to supports, which will include linking individuals to services, additional information, and online support tools. Last but not least, our 2017 annual conference will take place in Washington, DC in June and will include leading advocates, lawmakers, and celebrities who speak about mental health. 
5. How does Mental Health America center equity in their agenda? 

At the heart of MHA’s work is the belief that there is no health without mental health. This means that the mental health of all Americans is important and all Americans should have access to supports and services at parity with those offered for physical health. 
We work to protect the rights and dignity of individuals with mental health conditions nationwide, and ensure that people with lived experience of mental health conditions and their voices are integrated into all areas of the organization with a focus on inclusion, self-directed care and recovery. MHA’s Peer Supports and Services Department develops manuals, curricula, web content, and programs geared specifically for peers and consumer-run organizations aiming to increase community inclusion, peer workforce development, community organizing efforts, and stakeholder engagement. This includes a focus on cultural and linguistic competency that ensures people get the services and supports that they want and that work best for them.
MHA collaborates with a wide audience of affiliates and our supporters to advance policy recommendations that promote our mission.  Over 200 of MHA’s local affiliates work around the country with state and local policymakers to explore disparities and needs in state and local level mental health care and policy.
6. Finally, what is the most exciting thing about working at Mental Health America? 
The most exciting thing about working at Mental Health America is promoting policies and programs that empower all people to live better lives. We believe that the individual should be at the center of services and supports and that the voice of individuals with lived experience is essential in promoting the best outcomes for everyone. MHA’s unique approach and B4Stage4 Philosophy focuses on the entire spectrum of mental health concerns and allows us to work to impact people at all areas of life, from early childhood to community trauma to access to treatment to criminal justice. 


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