New Lessons at #NAMICon2020

Over the last two days, I was fortunate enough to attend NAMICon2020, the annual convention that is organized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI. This year, because of COVID, the conference was free and completely virtual.

While I try to stay on top of the latest developments in mental health research and advocacy, this was a great chance to hear from the experts directly, learn about developments that I might have missed, and network with others in the mental health community. And it was also an ideal way to refresh my resolve when it comes to sharing my story and being a mental health advocate.

And here are some of the things I learned over the last two days:

  • There is some progress being made understanding the genes associated with schizophrenia, but there are over 250 genes involved, so understanding the issue and creating a solution is amazingly complex.
  • New research (as in just published in 2020) suggests that EEG scans may help take some of the guesswork out of prescribing mental health medications.
  • Many of the current crisis hotlines are fragmented, creating gaps where people can fall through the cracks, and this reinforces the need for the national 988 suicide hotline that was endorsed by the FCC and passed the Senate unanimously.
  • In the faith community, the average congregation is 100 people, and statistically, 20 of those people have some experience with mental illness, highlighting the need for outreach to leaders within the faith community.
  • The presence of mental illness is overrepresented in the prison populations ( in the general population about 4 percent have a serious mental illness, vs. 17 percent in the prison population). This highlights the need for diversion programs.
  • Many mental health providers didn’t get as much of the relief as they should have under recent COVID relief bills. Also, the Affordable Care Act requires mental health treatment to be covered, which is why it is so crucial that the ACA survives the challenge currently before the Supreme Court. By comparison, the Mental Health Parity Act requires insurers to cover mental health the same as other illnesses but doesn’t require coverage if there is nothing to have parity with.
  • The expansion of telehealth services during the COVID era has greatly helped increase access to mental health care while keeping people safe.
  • There are real, physical health impacts associated with the mental health impacts that systemic racism has on people of color.

Some of these lessons reinforced things I already knew. Other lessons were brand new. Yet the greatest take away I got out of the last two days is that there is more work, more awareness of mental health issues than there has been in the past. This is so encouraging about what the future of mental health advocacy and mental health research has to offer. This makes me hopeful that in the coming years and decades, we will be able to see real policy changes to benefit people who battle mental illness. And maybe, together, we can finally end the stigma.

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