Forum discusses mental health stigmas, accessibility

The Mental Health for U.S. Unite for Change Forum featured panelists (left to right) Ricky Bluthenthal, Norm Ornstein, Elyn Saks and Kate Snow who discussed their personal experiences with mental health (Vincent Leo| Daily Trojan) .

Content Warning: Mention of suicide.

More than 100 people learned about mental health stigmas, healthcare, accessibility and the struggle of speaking out at the Mental Health for U.S. Unite for Change Forum held at Bovard Auditorium Monday. 

The event brought together professionals from different sectors to hold a public discussion on the state of mental health. Panelists included former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, NBC news correspondent Kate Snow and Gould School of Law professor Elyn Saks. Dr. Steven Siegel, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, began by addressing the need for people to speak out on a public platform.

“We encourage you to join the conversation on social media and use the hashtag ‘mental health,’” Siegel said. “We’re working to show policymakers that there’s a huge bloc of voters who care about mental health and addiction.”

Kennedy highlighted the importance of elections, calling on citizens to use their power as voters to draw attention to the importance of mental health nationwide. 

“We’ve barely scratched the surface in addressing the needs of those Americans who need help,” Kennedy said. “The only way to change that is to get active. And that’s going to require us to be political participants in our own democracy.”

Political scientist Norman Ornstein, who has a personal connection to mental health because of his son’s struggle with a psychiatric disorder, spoke on the importance of bringing mental health policy into the political sphere.

“I’ve been watching all the Democratic debates,” Ornstein said. “And so far, no one’s been asked about mental health.”

Anthony Rodriguez, an outreach coordinator for the Santa Barbara Response Network, shared his experience as a person who had attempted suicide three times and his current perspective on dealing with his struggles. 

Along with policies that can support those with mental illness Mental Health America of Los Angeles President Christina Miller advocated for a cultural change in the way we talk about mental illness, highlighting the struggle of many college students to openly speak on mental health. 

“A lot of teens and preteens can’t speak out about things because it’s out of the norm or people think they’re weird,” Treitler said. “I think just speaking up and not being afraid to share your story [is important] because that’s what really affects the people listening.”

Snow also talked about her personal experience with her father-in-law’s suicide. 

“I think that kind of loss was deep for my family, but we are willing to talk about it now because we want to reduce the stigma,” Snow said. “We don’t want it to be something that people whisper about.” 

Jana Wright, a graduate student studying public health, said the event brought insight into current issues concerning mental health services in public health.

“I think one of the best summary of tonight is that we have a system that seeks to cure, not a system of care,” Wright said. “This is a huge issue and we’ve already identified this in public health.” 

Carol Alata, a freshman majoring in computational neuroscience, said the event showed the positive impact of mental health advocacy. 

“It’s not just one person who’s making all of the changes,” Alata said. “Your voice matters. You have every right and a duty to speak and advocate for yourself and for others.”

The event concluded with Wellness Director of the Geffen Academy at UCLA Ross Szabo telling the students that the issue could not end without their efforts to make their voices heard on campus.    

“We can’t stop this problem without your voice, without your story, without your message,” Szabo said. “The more that you organize together in your own communities on campuses, the more changes that you can see.”