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Invitation-Only Carter Symposium Tackles Stigma of Mental Illness
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Invitation-Only Carter Symposium Tackles Stigma of Mental Illness

By Karen Langer, LMHC
AMHCA President, 2012–2013

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 28th Annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy. This year’s agenda was “Beyond Stigma: Advancing the Social Inclusion of People with Mental Illness.” I was honored to represent AMHCA at this invitation-only symposium event, where I had the opportunity to mingle and work with more than 200 movers and shakers from a variety of national organizations. I was able to do some great networking among this group of leaders on behalf of AMHCA and our members. 

Information provided by panels on transformational change, housing, and employment was only one aspect of the symposium, which was held Nov. 1–2, at the Carter Center in Atlanta. The primary objective of the symposium was active rather than passive; it was to provide a forum for the participants to develop policy recommendations in the mental health arena. 

The recommendations came from four working groups and are informed by the different perspectives and experiences of the members of each group: Research, Services, Public Health, and Law/Policy. I participated in the Law/Policy group, which I felt was a good fit for me. The process was interesting, influenced by lots of different perspectives and very aspirational. 

I found it interesting to hear how the recommendations might be affected by the presidential election, which had not yet taken place when we convened in early November. The group’s recommendations focused on implementing current policy (think “parity”) as well as issues such as affordable access to service, what access means, and finally, public awareness about mental illness as a way to reduce stigma. 

“Although we know much more about mental illnesses and how to treat them than ever before, stigma against these disorders remains,” said former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who led the symposium and is chair of The Carter Center Mental Health Task Force. “One of the best ways to fight stigma and discrimination in the long run is to take action and develop public policies that provide communities with the foundations and tools to include and support people living with mental illnesses.”

Our Thursday evening keynote was specifically focused on public awareness and stigma. Actress Glenn Close and her sister Jessie spoke about their experience with mental illness both as a family member and as the person living with the illness. Their presentation of their journey was both funny and poignant, with an emphasis on the importance of a caring family and good care. 

Along with film director Ron Howard, Glenn and Jessie Close have developed a series of PSAs on stigma and created a foundation, Bring Change 2 Mind, to raise public awareness. Take the time to see what they are doing! 

All in all, a great experience. 

History of the Annual Symposium on Mental Health Policy

Mrs. Carter initiated the annual Symposium on Mental Health Policy in 1985 to bring together national leaders in mental health to focus and coordinate their efforts on an issue of common concern.

Held each November, the symposia have examined such issues as mental illness and the elderly, child and adolescent illness, family coping, financing mental health services and research, treating mental illness in the primary-care setting, and stigma and mental illness.

In addition to the symposium, the Mental Health Program hosts another annual meeting to tackle pressing issues in mental health policy, the Rosalynn Carter Georgia Mental Health Forum, held each May since 1995 for state mental health organizations.

Find out more about the 2012 symposium

View archived video of the keynote address by Elyn Saks, PhD, JD. Saks is Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences, at the University of Southern California Gould Law School, as well as both Panel 1 (on Conversations on Transformational Change) and Panel 2 (on Housing).