MHA Leader Schroeder Stribling Answers 4 Questions: “Young people are experiencing alarming levels of distress.”

(1-7-22) Schroeder Stribling, Mental Health America’s President and CEO was kind enough to answer the same four questions that I posed to Dr. Delphin-Rittmon, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and several other mental health leaders at the start of the new year. I am posting all responses based on when I received them. Thank you President/CEO Stribling, especially for sharing your personal story about your father.

Question One: What was Mental Health America’s biggest accomplishment during 2021?

During 2021, Mental Health America screened 5 million people through our Online Screening Program, providing free, anonymous, clinically-validated assessments to those seeking mental health information and support. In 2021, MHA was able to double the number of people that were screened in 2020. We are proud to have helped 5 million people this year, in the midst of a pandemic, learn more about their mental health and access critical resources.

In addition to supporting each individual person who took a screen, MHA was also able to make a greater impact this year by plotting the results of these screens geographically, and in real-time. By analyzing screening results according to location, MHA was able to generate information about the current mental health needs of the nation at a pace and scale that has not been possible in the past.

Government data on mental health conditions is often delayed by one to two years, making it difficult to respond quickly to high-need areas and significantly weakening prevention efforts. By using geographic analysis to identify communities in need of greater mental health supports, MHA was able to generate findings that enabled state and local policymakers to take immediate action in their communities.

Question Two: What are your priorities going into 2022?

Going into 2022, MHA plans to continue its education and advocacy work on prevention and early intervention, but with a focus on social determinants of health. At MHA we recognize that it is simply not possible for each of us to thrive mentally if we do not address the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health.

Those include access to: quality education, healthy food, fair pay, transportation, affordable health care, stable housing, and safe neighborhoods.

These barriers are vast and systemic, but we cannot let the gravity of them deter us. In 2022, MHA aims to use our advocacy efforts to address the drivers of these barriers, with the goal of achieving mental health equity for all – ensuring each person has the opportunity to live a mentally healthy life and achieve their full potential.

Question Three: What are the biggest challenges that you currently face?

The biggest challenge we face right now lies in the number of people, particularly young people, facing mental health challenges during this pandemic. Data from the last two years of our screening program show youth ages 11-17 were more likely to score with moderate-to-severe symptoms of anxiety and depression than any other age group. Rates of suicidal ideation were also higher for youth, particularly LGBTQ+ youth, than any other age group.

It is clear that our young people are experiencing alarming levels of distress and are desperately in need of mental health support and services.

We want each and every person, and young people in particular, to have access to high-quality, affordable mental health care that meets diverse cultural and language needs. This is an enormous challenge within our current mental health care landscape. In order to accomplish this, we are focused on prevention and early intervention strategies; improving financing of the delivery of mental health services in integrated settings like communities, schools, and pediatric practices; promotion of youth leadership; and peer support.

Question Four: Why did you get involved in mental health?

I got involved in mental health because my family, like most if not all, has experienced our share of mental health challenges, conditions, and crises.

Most consequential, in my early life, were the struggles my father faced after making a courageous but costly decision to live as an openly gay man. He left his vocation as a Methodist Minister and became distanced from a disapproving family. He struggled with depression and substance abuse and experienced several crises involving a suicide attempt, a serious drunk driving accident, and an arrest. He died of AIDS at the height of the crisis when I was 21. My antidote for grief was action – I poured myself into every form of AIDS advocacy. I felt a calling: to work in service to those at the margins. Those whose mental health was negatively impacted by stigma and shame – sometimes external, often internal.

I’ve spent decades answering that call, first on the Acute Unit of an otherwise-shuttered state hospital in Massachusetts where almost all of the patients arrived involuntarily and all were in crisis. Then later, in community-based social services, where I witnessed firsthand the intersection between mental health and poverty. Now, at Mental Health America, I’m taking all these lived experiences and using them to focus on social equity which has a direct impact on the mental health of children, youth, adults, and whole communities. I aim to be an agent of change in our movement to create equitable opportunities for mental health and recovery for all.

About the Author (From the MHA webpage)  Schroeder Stribling is the President and CEO of Mental Health America, the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all. She is a lifelong social justice advocate with over 20 years of experience managing organizations focused on mental health, homelessness, poverty, and racial justice. 

Prior to joining Mental Health America, Stribling was the CEO at N Street Village, a nonprofit providing housing support services for women and families in Washington, DC. Under her leadership, N Street Village expanded from one to eight locations. She helped diversify revenue streams, create partnerships with government entities, lead city-wide policy initiatives on homelessness, and acquire a smaller nonprofit organization. Prior to her time at N Street Village, Stribling was a Senior Social Worker at Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital, where she was responsible for the implementation of new mental health programs in the inner-city Head Start school system. Earlier in her career, she worked as a Clinical Social Worker and served as a Coordinator for the Dual Diagnosis Program on the Inpatient Psychiatry Unit at Suburban Hospital, which is now a part of Johns Hopkins. 

Stribling received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Wellesley College, a master’s in social work from Smith College School for Social Work, and a certificate in nonprofit management from Georgetown University. She speaks and writes frequently on topics related to mental health and racial and economic equity and is an ever-passionate spokesperson for mental health and social justice in our times.

Next in series: Daniel H. Gillison Jr., CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. (I am posting responses based on the order that I received them. The views of the authors are their own.)

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.