Grab Your Cape: The World Is About To Be Saved By Women Empowered And Connected; Part 2
As I write this, my daughter texts me that Robin Williams hung himself. After having spent the last 29 years working to treat mental illness and prevent suicide, I am heartbroken that this incredibly gifted man felt the only option was to end his own life. I believe in my soul that if women were at the helm of the world’s priorities, this would not happen. Children would not go hungry, war would not be considered a means for resolving conflict and one person would not die by suicide every 40 seconds (WHO 2014).
Part of the journey that has led me to this point in time; this campaign, has been my past work. If it had not been for creating The Partnership for Mental Health, Inc., (PMH) a grassroots volunteer nonprofit, I don’t believe I would have the creative vision for empowering and connecting the women of the world on the level that I have today and the understanding of how such a WIG (wildly improbable goal) can work.
Early on in my career, it became obvious to me that in order to overcome the stigma of mental illness and make recovery a real possibility, entire communities needed to be involved. Collaboration among mental health agencies and organizations was necessary to unify individual efforts and make the collective voice for mental health be heard. In 2005, working with two visionary women colleagues from collaborative organizations, we created a county based alliance. Twenty organizations and agencies from Clermont County, Ohio joined the alliance and began work on a mission and vision. In 2007, the Alliance incorporated with a plan to open membership to surrounding counties with the ideology that through coordinating efforts, more could be achieved. The Partnership for Mental Health, Inc. received its not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 status in 2008 and quickly became a dynamic regional collaborative of agencies, organizations and individuals sharing common goals of increasing awareness and understanding of mental health issues, working to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental disorders and advocating for those challenged by mental illness in the SW Ohio, SE Indiana and Northern KY region. Organizations and agencies that had previously worked in silos, now shared goals, strategic initiatives and resources.
The use of digital tools made our work possible. We would not have been able to do what we did without the internet, laptops, DVD’s, mp3 files, social networks (including Facebook, Twitter) and using Evernote and Drop Box on Smart Phones. Through the internet we taught ourselves how to run our own nonprofit and about the legal requirements and regulations, then shared with each other exceptional governance resources we’d found for maintaining an effective Board of Directors. We provided regular free educational events for thousands of community members and used our laptops to project DVD’s containing stories of real individuals with mental illness to begin breaking down the fear and stigma surrounding schizophrenia and other chronic mental illnesses. We created an annual event, “The Celebration of Hope & Heroes” to bring community leaders together with individuals challenged by mental illness to increase awareness and understanding, to celebrate individuals who have been role models in their recovery, and to recognize those who have made a meaningful contribution in promoting recovery in the region. To do this we made videos of each mental health consumer that had been nominated, sharing his or her personal story of mental illness and showed this during the event luncheon. These inspiring narratives of real people in our community helped bridge a gap, raising compassion and commitment to improving mental health services in our area. With each year, the numbers of community leaders and members seeking to participate grew and we built a large database for advertising future events and obtaining support for various campaigns. We used Constant Contact to maintain this information and easily message individuals according to their area of interest regarding volunteer needs or events such as the Out of the Darkness Walk, benefiting local and national suicide prevention and awareness programs.
But we didn’t want to be merely about increasing understanding and awareness. We realized that, if we brought major players together around their specific interests and passions to strategize, prioritize and share the work, they would accomplish more, faster. This has been seen in the work of our Interfaith Mental Health initiative which connected area faith leaders to address mental health needs in their congregations regionally. It has also been witnessed in coordination of suicide prevention efforts in our region. PMH invested in an evidence-based community based gatekeeper training QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) to teach ordinary citizens how to recognize and intervene with someone at risk for suicide. PMH volunteers have trained almost two thousand individuals in our region including teachers, entire congregations and business leaders.
The local American Foundation for Suicide Prevention had 200 participants for their first “Out of the Darkness Community Walk” here. Combining efforts with other organizations within PMH helped increase that number to more than 3, 000 this past year. Another initiative resulting from the collaboration of members of PMH provides programming to help support survivors and prevent suicide contagion by working to Identify and promote evidence-based suicide prevention and postvention programs, develop resource infrastructure to respond to postvention needs, engage community leaders to raise awareness of these important issues and establish advocacy in the school and school leadership to provide the resources of time and effort to engage in prevention and postvention programs.
One of the triumphs closest to my heart has been PMH getting mental health information and programs onto our college campuses by facilitating the creation of Active Minds chapters throughout the region. Active Minds on Campus is a national student led nonprofit that empowers students to change the dialogue on campus about mental health and suicide. Student leaders from six different campuses set up individual chapters and shared resources for creative awareness programs and events. They also shared many stories about student lives that were saved because of their efforts. Two of these chapters have been recognized nationally as 5-Star Chapters, the highest recognition a chapter can receive. Additionally, PMH was able to facilitate the creation of programs in two area high schools, the first in the state of Ohio!
Spreading the word and getting real and substantial engagement on critical issues such as health care and suicide prevention requires not only digital tools and the most creative and advanced technology but a vision for the bigger picture: how things can happen on a broader, more ambitious scale. Creating this partnership in my spare time was not easy but it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I now see all of my past experiences culminating here, with this campaign, relating to my true mission: developing a means by which women can strategically connect on a grand scale around their altruistic passions, engaging them beyond philanthropy or social networking toward hands-on action both virtually and face-to-face. Not simply a site for women. I envision THE site for women…whereby we will change – and perhaps even save - our world.