Personalized Organizing Guide

Introduction

We are pleased that you want to participate in the National Dialogue for Mental Health through the Creating Community Solutions program. The following information will help you get started organizing a dialogue on mental health in your community.  After you’ve read through this material, please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have additional questions. 

Community conversations can be a powerful way to engage many different types of people to build connections, explore ideas and take action around an issue. Some people are already working to address mental health issues in their community, but we need more people to get involved to strengthen their efforts.

After the community conversations, participants will decide what kinds of actions to take, which might include:

  • Taking steps to develop new relationships and new ways to work with people,
  • Sharing information and partnering with groups working on similar community issues,
  • Strengthening practices and policies in a community organization, or other group you are a part of to be supportive of mental health, and
  • Being part of an action team to work on ideas and priorities identified by the community.

After you have your conversations and brainstorm action ideas, you can add your voice to the national dialogue by sharing your results at www.creatingcommunitysolutions.org/outcomes.  You will also be able to see results from groups around the country who are having this important conversation, which will make it possible for local groups to learn from each other.

Now, here are suggestions based on your answers to the organizing questions.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are some special considerations you may want to keep in mind because talking about mental health in our communities can be challenging.

Supporting young people to participate in the project:

These conversations pay special attention to the mental health challenges that directly affect young people. If you are organizing a community conversation on mental health, actively recruiting youth and family members from the beginning is vital.

Youth can help with the organizing work as part of your planning team, serve as co-facilitators of the conversation, or add their ideas as conversation participants. They can also organize their own youth conversations. Think of the many ways young people can participate. Make sure to listen to and respect their opinions. 

Involving persons with lived experience and mental health providers:

People with lived experience (individuals with lived experience of mental and substance use disorders who are in recovery from these conditions), or peers, have a unique capacity to help others recover from mental and substance use disorders by sharing their skills, strength, and hope for recovery.  Peer support has been recognized as a valuable and important service for recovery from mental and substance use disorders.

If you will be holding multiple conversations in one venue, you may want to include psychologists, social workers, peer and family support specialists, and youth mentors for their expertise and in case people need support during or after the meeting. 

If you are organizing a single small-group conversation or multiple conversation groups across your community, you may want to ask one or more mental health care providers, peers, and family members to be at each conversation.  Familiarize them with the discussion guide prior to the conversation and let them know who will be in the group.

As part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health, a number of mental health organizations are available to assist communities like yours in locating mental health care providers who you can invite to your conversations. Visit www.MentalHealth.gov  for information on these partnering organizations. 

It is important to clarify the role of mental health professionals, peers, and family members if they are participants in the conversations. Make sure they know that it is important for them to participate on an equal basis with others. People may turn to them for information. While this is natural and can be helpful, make sure that the session provides adequate time for conversation among all participants. You may want to schedule a separate time outside the allotted conversation session for people to consult mental health professionals that have agreed to act as resources.

Facilitating a conversation on mental health:

Be consistent and clear with your group that you are a facilitator helping them to have a conversation on mental health. Do this as often as needed. Let them know that your role is not to dispense mental health advice, and that the conversations are not designed for that purpose.

Sharing personal experiences with mental health issues can be powerful to help educate others and build awareness and support.  Such disclosure should be done at the discretion and by the choice of the individual. 

Sometimes sharing personal experiences can be difficult and emotionally taxing.  Some people who have little experience sharing personal stories may need to prepare themselves to do so ahead of time, and may benefit from support during and after the meeting by family, friends, or mental health providers.

During these conversations, participants will discuss mental health, trauma, resilience and recovery. It is important to give participants advance notice at the beginning of the meeting that some of the experiences shared may be difficult to hear. Concentrate on lessons learned and focus on themes of resilience and recovery. 

Strive to create a safe, supportive place for participants by promoting the ideas of openness, non-judgment, and respect for others. Initiate short breaks or shift the topics if participants become argumentative or the environment becomes heated.

Remind participants that mental health issues affects all of us including stress, depression, experiencing or witnessing trauma, and other diagnosed forms of mental illness. Most of us can live normal healthy lives if what we experience is addressed early and treated if necessary.

If it appears that someone is having difficulty discussing trauma or mental health issues or is actually in crisis, you can suggest they call 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255). This hotline is staffed 24 hours a day for those in crisis.  The crisis line should not be used as a substitute for professional health and mental health care consultation.  If there is an immediate emergency, call 911. 

How to share the results from your community:

After you have your conversations and brainstorm action ideas, you can add your voice to the national dialogue by sharing your results at www.creatingcommunitysolutions/outcomes.  You will also be able to see results from groups around the country who are having this important conversation, which will make it possible for local groups to learn from each other.