Biggest Mental Health Convention – Plus More Events Make For Busy Last Several Days, But Best News Was Personal

Linda Rosenberg kicks off annual convention

(4-23-18) This morning finds me participating in the opening session of NATCON18, the annual convention here in Washington D.C. of the National Council for Behavioral Health  – and what an event it will be!

Linda Rosenberg and her crew are renowned for putting on informative and spectacular conventions that few can rival. There are always lots of celebrities. This year, they include Chuck Todd of NBC News, Glynn Washington of public radio, and actress and activist Anna Deavere Smith.

But it’s the mental health experts who always draw me.

Unfortunately, Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Leifman and author/ suicide survivor Kevin Hines will be speaking Wednesday at the same time I am giving a Thought Leader talk entitled: Hard Lessons Learned: A Father’s Mission to Rescue His Son and How That Journey Saved Them Both. I would have enjoyed hearing them.

Dr. Elinore F. McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, will hold a town hall and, in a new addition to the schedule this year, Linda and her team have invited several controversial speakers to give Ted like talks during what is being called: Uncomfortable Conversations. Two of those invited to speak are:

Sally Satel, MD — Practicing Psychiatrist and Lecturer, Yale University School of Medicine, who will ask whether addiction is a brain disease. Dr. Satel contends this is a false choice that robs us of the chance to understand addiction as “a complex set of activities.” Instead of narrowing our thinking on addiction, Dr. Satel seeks to widen it.

D. J. Jaffe, author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill is the other notable. Given that most attendees will be from the industry that he attacks in his book, his talk should provoke lots of comments. The promo says: “Is an increased focus on mental wellness the wave of the future? DJ Jaffe believes our concern for the “worried well” is shortchanging those who are seriously mentally ill. Hear how advocates can create a system that offers “treatment before tragedy” for mental illness.

Later today, I will be moderating a panel later under the title: Have We Moved the Dial on Criminal Justice? The panelist include: Richard Cho, director Behavioral Health Program, Council of State Governments Justice Center; Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, who led the effort to establish Diversion First in Fairfax, County; and Sherry Blyth, Director of Crisis Series and Criminal Justice Initiatives at Austin Travis County Integral Care in Austin, Texas.

NATCON18 comes only days after I participated in the annual executive seminar of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, Inc., perhaps the best known and most vocal of all peer groups. It’s executive director, long-time peer advocate Harvey Rosenthal , moderated a panel that I participated in along with NYAPRS new policy director Elena Kravitz,  Rebecca Farley from the National Council of Behavioral Health, rights advocate Jennifer Mathis from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and New York Bureau of Mental Health’s medical director Dr. Pablo Sadler

Harvey did an outstanding job bringing panel members from much different perspectives together to see how all of us – parents, peers, mental health providers and civil rights lawyers, can work together to help individuals with mental illnesses and addictions get meaningful mental health care. The day long session was one of compassion, conversation and cooperation. Bravo Harvey!

While all of this was happening, Linda Stalters, executive director of Schizophrenia and Related Disorder Alliance of America,  announced that SARDAA, was awarding an “Exceptional Media Award” this year to me. Thank you Linda for the honor and all that you and SARDAA are doing to promote better mental health care.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post held a reunion for those of us who worked there in the 1980s. It was great fun to see so many of my former colleagues, including my good friends and fellow authors, Mike Sager and Walt Harrington. 

I’m a lucky man to have these two wordsmiths in my life for the past 38 years!

But the single biggest joy for me this weekend was that my son, Kevin, celebrated a birthday. For more than a decade, he has let me share his story of illness and recovery.

Thank you Kevin for teaching me about resilience and the human spirit.

To hear Kevin’s original rap about mental illness visit here. 



About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.