We saw great success at the 2016 Community Mental Health Conference. More than 300 people attended and we had several dynamic, knowledgeable speakers, including Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart, Temple University professor Dr. Mark Salzer, McGaw YMCA CEO Mark Dennis and CARA Program Director Jesse Teverbaugh. Our speakers captivated attendees as they imparted their knowledge about mental health and taking care of the most vulnerable.
The best way we determine how successful our annual conference has been is through the reaction of attendees, and this year’s conference goers had many wonderful things to say.
“I must admit that if at times I felt along(sic) and isolated in my plight, this counts as one of the days I felt the farthest from the lonely view.”
 “I had the most magnificent time… I had the great pleasure of interacting with other professionals and the guest speakers provided captivating testimonials.”
“This conference gave me the opportunity to see that we still need other alternatives to helping people with mental illness.”
“Reaffirmed {my} hope in mental health.”
Other attendees mentioned having renewed hope as one of the benefits of the conference as well, which pleases us because the conference, this year titled, “Mental Health: Why does it Matter? A Compassionate Community Responds,” was, as founder Lawrence Cohen expressed early on, “designed not only to inform and teach, but also to enable us all to learn more about the most vulnerable in our society, and how each of us can help.”
Our call for help in accomplishing this did not go unheeded as we hosted an unprecedented 21 discussion groups, all with presenters who were excited to talk about and share information on what they know so much about.  Attendees were treated to discussion groups featuring such heady topics as loss through violent death, restorative justice with a trauma informed lenses, crisis intervention training, homeless rights and justice, the impact of cultural and historical trauma and the interplay of trauma, and addiction and mental health in the LGBTQ community.
Just as in years past, we packed a lot of powerful information into a few short hours, prompting such comments as:
“It broadened my scope of knowledge and the impact that mental health has on the world and community.”
“…appreciative of broad spectrum.”
“Fantastic content and quality presenters…”
The day was filled with inspirational moments, as when Sheriff Dart talked about the innovative ways in which he and his staff have managed to run the largest mental health facility in the country, even though his facility is the Cook County Jail, or when Dr. Salzer told the audience how community inclusion of people with psychiatric disabilities is not only possible, but is one of the best possible solutions for those who live with such disabilities. We were also inspired by Jesse Teverbaugh who shared his amazing journey from growing up the child of a father who was successful in his suicide attempt to living through depression and homelessness to ultimately transitioning from client to Director of Student and Alumni Affairs of the Cara Program, whose mission is to prepare and inspire motivated individuals to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.
As we prepare for our 16th annual conference to take place on June 4, 2017, we are most particularly inspired by a comment from an attendee who simply said, “I learned how the community can help the mentally ill.”
And to the attendee who said, “I am eager for next year’s conference;” please know that we are just as eager to see you!