SAN DIEGO, March 5, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- The San Diego military community joined local mental health advocates last night for "Serving Those Who Serve," an event designed to break down the barriers that prevent service members and veterans from seeking mental health services, specifically the stigma associated with mental illness. More than 200 veterans, active duty and their family members attended the event at the San Diego Air & Space Museum to hear from John Roberts of Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and a panel of veterans and mental health experts moderated by KGTV reporter, Bob Lawrence. Hosted by the California Mental Health Services Authority, County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency and the National Alliance on Mental Illness San Diego, the event also included a wellness fair of more than 25 organizations.
"One in five service members will need help dealing with the invisible wounds of war, including combat stress, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury," said John Roberts, executive vice president of warrior relations, WWP. "We must ensure these warriors are provided the best care for their physical and mental health. We need to first reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, so when they are facing a mental health challenge, they are not afraid to reach out for help and support."
Roberts highlighted the work WWP is doing at the national level to support those who are facing mental health challenges. The programs offered by WWP encourage goal-setting to help warriors understand their new normal, for example their outdoor rehabilitative retreat that promotes connecting and healing with other combat veterans. The organization's website features online assessment tools and videos of fellow warriors sharing their stories and experiences.
In addition to national resources, the military community of San Diego is supported by a number of local programs and services that promote mental wellness. Alfredo Aguirre, behavioral health director, County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, Behavioral Health Services spotlighted the "It's Up to Us" and "Know the Signs" campaigns as examples of how the county is creating an environment where residents openly talk about mental illness, recognize symptoms and seek help.
Joining Roberts for a panel discussion were Maurice Wilson of National Veterans Transition Services, Barbara Padilla from Courage to Call, McCail Smith Jr. of the Mental Health Advocacy Council for VA Medical Center La Jolla, veteran and Veterans Affair chaplain Larry Taylor and combat veteran Giovanny Penate. During the 45-minute discussion and Q&A session, panelists emphasized the importance of encouraging open dialogue about mental illness as a critical first step in reducing stigma associated with mental illness. The veterans on the panel shared how they overcame the struggles they faced by accessing local services, such as Courage to Call 2-1-1, a 24/7 helpline in San Diego County staffed by trained veterans that links individuals to prevention-oriented services and other mental health resources. Panelists also noted the success of National Veterans Transition Services Inc. local REBOOT workshops that have helped 1,078 families successfully transition from active duty to civilian life.
"The men and women who serve in our military and their families make tremendous sacrifices on behalf of every American," said County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who during his remarks noted that he is the son of a World War II Navy veteran. "That's why it is critical that we provide them the support they need, and eliminate any stigma about reaching out for mental health services."
At the conclusion of the event, attendees were invited to build on the momentum of the conversation and pledge their commitment to reducing stigma associated with mental illness, joining the hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals across California who make up Each Mind Matters: California's Mental Health Movement. Pledges will be shared on www.EachMindMatters.org, where supporters can stay connected to the movement, read and share real stores of recovery and learn more about mental health strategies that save lives and invest in local communities throughout California.
About the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA)
CalMHSA is an organization of county governments working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities. Prevention and Early Intervention programs implemented by CalMHSA are funded through the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63). Prop. 63 provides the funding and framework needed to expand mental health services to previously underserved populations and all of California's diverse communities.
About Prevention and Early Intervention
Prevention and Early Intervention initiatives are voter-approved Prop. 63-funded programs aimed at preventing suicides, reducing stigma and discrimination, and improving student mental health. These initiatives transform California's mental health services approach by uniting California's diverse communities to embrace mental wellness and delivering the tools individuals need before they reach the crisis point. They are implemented as a coordinated effort by California's counties for maximum statewide impact and cost effectiveness.
The Stigma and Discrimination Reduction initiative uses a full range of Prevention and Early Intervention strategies to confront the fundamental causes of stigmatizing attitudes and discriminatory and prejudicial actions toward people with mental illness, across ages and backgrounds.
SOURCE California Mental Health Services Authority