October 21, 2015

By Luna Greenstein

For the past few months, I have witnessed and participated in the intense phase of judging that goes into the Connect4MentalHealth Innovation Awards. Although it was my first time being a part of this process, it was apparent to me that this was the most competitive year yet.

“It was really hard to pick this year—the number of innovative and interesting proposals submitted is very encouraging!” said Ron Honberg, NAMI’s National Director of Policy and one of the judges.

The level of competition between programs is a representation of the increase in support and help for those living with mental illness in four areas: early intervention, creative use of technology, service integration and continuity of care. While the development and creation of programs in these areas may have made the task of selecting the winners more difficult, it will make the lives of many people living with mental illness much easier.

The winners for each category are:

Early Intervention: MHA Northern Kentucky & Southwest Ohio

Mental Health America’s “Tri-State MHFA Hub” provides centralized coordination for the planning, development, implementation and sustainability for a multi-state Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) initiative. This is a deliberate effort to raise mental health literacy and reduce stigma while simultaneously providing early identification and intervention. Through MHFA, individuals are equipped to recognize early warning signs, provide assistance to individuals and help connect individuals to appropriate treatment and support.

“This provides hope and inspiration that we are heading in the right direction. One that will really impact our region in an impactful way!” said Executive Director Elizabeth Atwell

Creative Use of Technology: NAMI San Diego Tech Café

The Tech Café sets out to increase health/wellness literacy by providing technology tools to individuals with mental illness and their supportive families. The Technology Toolbox is instrumental in educating and empowering individuals through the use of technology, so they can schedule medical appointments, access health/wellness resources, gain employment, address transportation issues, access online education and connect with family and friends.

“Our Tech CAFÉ has become well known by many community partners because of the stories of hope and success communicated by the participants that we are proud to share.  Tech CAFÉ is truly empowering individuals through digital literacy using a variety of platforms,” said CEO Shannon Jaccard.

Continuity of Care: NAMI Greater Cleveland

NAMI Greater Cleveland has pioneered a service model that meets the needs of individuals who fall in a gap between already existing services that connect homeless individuals with mental health services as well as housing support. This new model helps high-poverty public housing residents, many who are rather suspected of having mental illness. These individuals have either have never received services, or have experienced long lapses in treatment and medication.

“The staff and I are honored and humbled by winning this award… And to the residents at each facility that in spite of the many obstacles that might keep them from recovery, continue the pursuit of their health-physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It is those participants who are the most central part of our mission, the heart of NAMI,” said Program Coordinator Marsha Mitchell Blanks

Service Integration: Jefferson Center for Mental Health

Union Square Health Home is a fully integrated health care home for adults with serious mental illness. This clinic is a community-based solution to addressing a fragmented, poorly coordinated health care delivery system. Union Square offers psychiatric and mental health treatment, SUD treatment, primary care, wellness services, and peer health coaching all in one place.

“This year was hard to score again, there is so much significant and innovative work going on across our nation,” said one of the judges, Leon Evans, CEO for the Center for Health Care Services, Bexar County (San Antonio) Mental Health and Substance Abuse Authority.

These types of programs are what we need more of across the nation. I look forward to hearing more about these hard-working programs as they continue to improve lives in the coming years.

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