The 2014 National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Convention in Washington, D.C. in September was, by any measure, a huge success. Mingling with consumers, family members, mental health advocates, and a wide range of mental health providers, I couldn’t help but be swept up in the atmosphere of expectation that often permeates these annual gatherings.
A stellar lineup of guest speakers spoke passionately about their particular battles with mental illness. Both a female celebrity and a former U.S. Congressman from a famous American family shared their struggles with bipolar disorder.
A Virginia state senator told of his beloved son’s final, desperate act — the heartbreaking result of a failed delivery system that denied his son an inpatient bed in a time of obvious need.
In the seminars I attended, audiences listened attentively to the professionals as they outlined their particular research or program. Perhaps they wondered to themselves if this might just be the answer to the problems that plague their loved ones or patients. I saw concentration on many faces; I saw hope.
Unfortunately, I also witnessed some headshaking when the subject of cost was discussed. It was a lot like dangling a tantalizing treat before an excited child and then pulling it away at the very last minute.
Mirrored on a multitude of faces were these inevitable questions: Could this possibly work? How much does it cost? As everyone at such a conference knows only too well, financing treatment for the mentally ill is always the bottom line.
As a mental health advocate, the two presentations of greatest interest to me were Open Dialogue and Cognitive Enhancement Therapy (CET). The first, Open Dialogue, is an innovative, network-based program designed for persons experiencing first-time psychosis. Developed in Finland, the jury is still out regarding the viability of Open Dialogue in the United States. The Open Dialogue approach is for a team consisting of therapists and family members to assess and treat the psychotic individual in his or her own home prior to hospitalization. This same team then remains with the individual throughout their treatment regardless of how long the process takes.
The second program, Cognitive Enhancement Therapy (CET), is a 48-week, recovery-based program developed at the Cleveland Institute. Recognized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), CET training is designed to improve cognition in a number of crucial areas. Although originally developed for people with schizophrenia, CET has also proved successful with individuals diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression and some forms of autism. The following states currently have CET training sites: California, Delaware, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.
Open Dialogue and Cognitive Enhancement Therapy were but two exciting programs presented at the 2014 NAMI conference. I have no doubt more will be introduced next year and in years to come. One thing is certain, until parity for the mentally ill ceases to be a promise and becomes reality for the millions affected, the fight goes on.