A Note from Allen: Stronger Together in 2013
As I look out my window on a cold and snowy December day, I reflect that is takes a strong person to survive a Chicago winter. I am blessed that I have many tools to reinforce my own strength: a wonderful family, supportive friends, a beautiful lakefront, my talented colleagues…and the promise of summer. I am stronger with the support of others. And so, too, is DBSA. I think all of us are Stronger Together. Indeed, if there has been a prevailing theme for these notes in 2013, it’s been the idea that we can be more effective if we come together.
On a personal level, we who have mood disorders need support from people who have been there and who understand the journey to wellness. DBSA’s 286 peer-led chapters have provided free, in-person support; information and education; and community engagement to 53,471 people. This vital network of chapters is DBSA’s launch pad to the wider community, and our total organizational reach was over 2,000,000 in 2013…and this will grow.
Many among our community of peers have chosen to move out into the mental health workforce through peer specialist work. This past year alone, DBSA provided 26 trainings to over 500 people—most of these being Veterans. We were immensely proud to serve our country’s Veterans by creating a custom program geared specifically to addressing an Executive Order from President Obama to train and hire peer specialists to serve in U.S. Veterans Administration Hospitals and Centers.
Advocacy on an individual, personal level has always been an important part of what we at DBSA do. For nearly 30 years, we have been at the forefront of supporting peers’ roles in determining needs and best practices for delivery of mental health services. Our relationship with the University of Michigan and its Depression Center—through WeSearchTogether—has taken this longtime commitment to the next level. It enables us to advocate for lives that move beyond surviving to ones wherein we thrive. Our members’ willingness to share personal and clinical experiences through participation in formal research programs is both courageous and vitally needed.
In May, DBSA entered the blogosphere with our partnership with Families for Depression Awareness to post our first Care for Your Mind blog. This relationship brings the perspective of families and friends to the mood disorder conversation. With commentary from experts in areas of policy and legislation, we invite comment from the community and encourage dialogue about ensuring that access to quality mental health care is available to all Americans.
In 2013, we further formalized DBSA’s role in advocating for policy and legislative change with an intensive, three-day advocacy training for peers from four states. This training was followed-up with DBSA’s first-ever participation in a national mental health Hill Day through our partnership with the National Council for Behavioral Health. Twenty-five peers met with their national representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. sharing personal stories and asking for support of current mental health legislation. Our 2013 trainees are now replicating this program in their home states with outreach to their state and local government representatives.
The National Council partnership is just one of many opportunities DBSA found in 2013 for collaboration with colleague organizations. DBSA’s Chapter Leadership Forum and National Conference in June were greatly enhanced by our first-ever joint day of programming with the International Society on Bipolar Disorders. We worked with the International Bipolar Foundation on the Say It Forward Campaign during October. And now, as we bring 2013 to a close, we are aligned with the Balanced Mind Foundation, creating a single, stronger organization that serves people of all ages who have mood disorders. Through this merging of organizations, DBSA has greater potential, through early detection and intervention, to help reduce the severity of mental health issues for children as they grow and transition into young adults.
Eleven months ago, in my first column of 2013, I shared a bit about my own struggles with mood-related symptoms…and my growing realization that living in wellness is much more likely when we make commitments to help others. That is my challenge for you, DBSA peers and friends, in the coming year. Find your own place within DBSA: mentor a peer at a support group, participate in a research study, enter the dialogue on Care for Your Mind, become involved in advocacy in your community. I believe we can be individually and collectively stronger when we offer our peers support; we can be stronger together if we focus not on danger and drain, but on collaboration and contribution; we can be stronger for ourselves and subsequent generations as we shift treatment to build wellness, not just eliminate symptoms; and we can have truly lasting impact as a unified and strategically minded coalition of peers who advocate together for the civil rights of all people living with mental health conditions.
Wishing you positive energy and strength as we venture forward together in 2014,