The final day of the 2023 Mental Health America Conference: Next Gen Prevention did slow down, but rather fired up attendees with energetic keynotes and sessions.
Dr. David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, had a conversation with Caren Howard, director of policy and advocacy at MHA, about mental health in the Black LGBTQ+ community, his policy work, and the importance of words.
“I use the term same-gender loving man, I do not use the term gay,” Johns said. “I use this term to acknowledge that I am as proud as being a Black man as I am as a same-gender loving man.” He also talked about allowing people “in” rather than having to “come out.” “I don’t owe anybody information about me that they don’t deserve.”
Johns also spoke about his research findings in his paper, By Any Means Necessary: Supporting Black Queer Public School Students in the United States. “I found things in the data that I would not find if I didn’t use an intersectionality tool,” Johns said. He spoke about how representation and respect matters more for Black trans and nonbinary students than other student groups.
Johns said that the negativity that emerged in the previous Administration has led to a rise in tension in public schools. “We are living in an environment where politics are leveraging spaces where they are legally protected,” Johns said. “You can’t sue a politician for what they say on the legislative floor.” He added that these policies and words are “having real detrimental effects on the people they are targeting.”
Karen Fortuna, assistant professor at Dartmouth College, led the session Emerging Trends in the Development and Uptake of Digital Peer Support Technologies. “What peer supporters were using were apps like Calm to connect with people through the pandemic. Not the ones we spent millions on, but the popular ones,” Fortuna said. “There are thousands of apps and different technologies. How do you know which one to choose? Which ones take your insurance? Which ones have wait times under 10 minutes? … It’s about accessing and engaging a population and forging that connection.”
Mila Rodriguez-Adair, who works at Portland Public Schools in the student success and health department, co-led the session entitled Crisis Recovery after a Hate-based Event. “Just because I’m a person of color doesn’t mean I don’t have work to do,” she said. “You can’t just depend on training being required in your own district.”
Deb Haaland, U.S. Interior Secretary, addressed the audience via video. “Indigenous peoples continue to grapple with intergenerational trauma, which is a direct result of violent federal polices meant to eradicate or assimilate people like me,” Haaland said.
Haaland spoke about what her department is doing and different steps that are being taken to collectively heal the nation, and especially Indigenous peoples. “We are also leveraging one of the most important resources we have, access to nature. And that’s not just critical for Indigenous communities, but for each and every one of us, no matter where we live.”
Autumn Rose Miskweminanocsqua (Raspberry Star Woman) Williams, former Miss Native American USA, shared two of her poems and her experiences as a Shinnecock woman and with suicidality and depression.
“Connection is important to me in my mental health journey,” Willaims said. “Connecting nature and with my culture is something that helps me feel grounded my world feels like it’s turning upside down.”
She spoke about the widespread indifference of Indigenous communities in the U.S. “The genocide of Native Americans never fully went away, it just transformed,” she said. “We go to a period of genocide to forced assimilation … from there we go onto a period of being written out of education … then we go into a period of not seeing us.” Williams added to applause, “My existence is resistance.”
Travis L. Teller, a traditional practitioner at the Tséhootsooí Medical Center, sang a song of blessing in the closing session. “Through all of the hard painful experiences, [Indigenous peoples] are still here. I am still here. To pray, to sing, to do my ceremonies.”
MHA President and CEO Schroeder Stribling, in her closing remarks, said, “This has been a profoundly inspiring week, and each of you has contributed to that. I want to thank you all for your presence here, for your advocacy, for your wisdom, and your good work in service of the most critical issue of our times – the health and well-being of individuals and communities.”
Learn more about the basis of this year’s conference theme and Mental Health America’s new strategic plan focusing on Next Gen Prevention.
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