DPA - Delaware Psychological Association

“PROGRESS IS IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT CHANGE” by Pat DeLeon, former APA President

December 27, 2017 11:43 AM | Kelly Wetzel (Administrator)

Give an Hour:  When one reflects upon the contributions of visionary (and unsurprisingly, frequently selfless) colleagues, Give an Hour truly stands out.  To date, Barbara Van Dahlen’s pioneering efforts have resulted in more than 124,000 hours of free mental and behavioral health care and support, valued at nearly $23 million, being provided by volunteer mental health professionals to active duty military personnel, Veterans, and their families.  She has recently expanded her efforts to address the needs of those impacted by this year’s extraordinary series of natural and man-made disasters, including Hurricane Harvey, as well as other populations who clearly are in need – including at risk teens, at risk seniors, survivors of gun violence, and victims of human trafficking.  Give an Hour has effectively responded to the trauma of Charlottesville and has begun to partner with the Red Cross to be able to effectively address yet unknown future traumatic events.  From my perspective, Barbara has been unusually sensitive to the long-term importance of involving our next generation of behavioral health clinicians throughout this journey.  The reflections of graduate students in psychology and psychiatric mental health nursing from the Uniformed Services University (USU), whom she has thereby mentored:

            “As part of the annual ‘Celebration of Service,’ Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen and her non-profit organization hosted a screening of the new film Into the Light by documentary filmmaker Charles Stuart.  The film features Barbara on her search to find her mother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia soon after Barbara’s birth and whom she had not seen in decades.  Her story was juxtaposed with the run across America to raise awareness for Veterans completed by former Marine Sgt. Brendan O’Toole.  Both Brendan and Barbara shared their experiences in finding themselves and learning to trust others enough to share their stories, in the words of eight-time Emmy Award winning filmmaker Chares Stuart.  The screening was held at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., and followed by a discussion panel with Charles, Brendan, and Barbara.  In line with the differing stories throughout the film, the discussion went in many different directions.  The audience members learned how they could share the film so others might become more aware of Veterans’ issues and the impact of mental illness and mental health stigma on families and communities.  Many personal stories of thanks and support were shared.  Those present were encouraged to advocate for their own mental health needs, and for those of others.

“Barbara set a wonderfully important example in facing personal mental health experiences within her family as well as her own internalized self-stigma, which is an important journey for anyone in the business of helping others face their own demons.  Brendan exemplified the persistence of service members in fighting for themselves – choosing to run across America in an effort to heal himself from invisible wounds and raise awareness of the struggles service members face when they return home and into the medical system.  Together, and with the help of creative minds, they created a touching film which will be available for free download in January at www.giveanhour.org and will air on PBS in May, 2018, for Mental Health Awareness Month.  Give an Hour champions a change in culture surrounding mental health.”  [Hannah Martinez, 1LT, USA; psychology graduate student].

            “I felt privileged to attend the premiere of Charles Stuart’s latest documentary over the Veterans Day weekend.  Having attended several events for Give an Hour and the Campaign to Change Direction in the past, I wasn’t surprised to see a film about mental health on the agenda for this year’s ‘Celebration of Service.’  What WAS surprising was how Mr. Stuart was able to weave two seemingly different and deeply personal stories into one riveting film.  Into the Light follows USMC Veteran Brendan O’Toole as he sets out to run 3,600 miles across the United States to raise money and awareness about depression and combat-related mental issues facing so many of our service members.  As his story unfolds, the film also introduces us to Barbara Van Dahlen, whom many in our field know as the dynamic founder and tireless advocate for Give an Hour and its associated causes.  What they may not know, however, is her personal story of battling mental illness within her own family.  It is a story of reluctance, realization, determination, heartbreak, and redemption.

            “Two of the ties that bind Brendan’s and Barbara’s stories are courage and stigma.  Although their stories and paths are very different, they both battled the stigma surrounding mental illness, and had the courage to realize that talking about it was the only way to help others facing similar circumstances.  Interestingly, both Marines and Mental Health Professionals have, in the past, been reluctant to share too much about their personal stories… it has been frowned upon and often even advised against, in professional and leadership training.  Into the Lighthumanizes both professions, highlighting the struggles that unite us.  As Barbara mentioned in the film, ‘Our similarities far outweigh our differences.’  This film was an excellent reminder that all of us – providers, patients, family, friends, and colleagues -- are fighting a shared battle.  I encourage everyone to share this film far and wide when it is released!”  [Michelle Binder, Capt., USAF; Psychiatric Mental Health Practitioner graduate student].  Have you volunteered for Give an Hour?

            The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine:  This year I will complete my service on the National Academies Board on Children, Youth, and Families where former APA Congressional Science Fellow Natacha Blain serves as the Board Director.  The Board’s mission is to convene top experts from multiple disciplines to analyze the best available evidence on crucial issues facing children, youth, and families today.  With the ability to evaluate research simultaneously from the perspectives of the biological, behavioral, health, and social sciences, the board seeks to shed light on innovative and influential solutions to inform the nation in a timely fashion.  A major goal is to make the largest possible impact on the health and well-being of children, youth, and their families throughout their entire lifecycle.  Increasingly, similar to Barbara Van Dahlen’s vision, efforts have been made to “change the conversation” surrounding health care to move beyond traditional individual-focused “medical care” and fully recognize the critical importance of the psychosocial-cultural-economic gradient of “wellbeing.”  Without access to adequate housing, transportation, physical safety, and reasonable economic resources, one cannot expect our nation’s health disparities to be successfully addressed.  Without fostering quality interprofessional education at the earliest stages of professional development, one cannot realistically expect the next generation of professionals to value and respect their colleagues.  During her 2016 APA Presidency, Susan McDaniel made integrated care and collaborative team practice a high priority for APA, reflecting their fundamental status within President Obama’s landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Attuned to the importance of data-influenced policy decisions, the board has been systematically exploring the unprecedented impact of technology and the media on our society’s deliberations and on its policies impacting children, youth, and families.  Although promoting the value of evidence-based policy, the board fully recognizes that this is not universally appreciated within or outside of the nation’s Capital.  There has also been the increasing recognition that major policy decisions are steadily being established at the state and local level, rather than at the federal level (i.e., devolution).  These are, indeed, challenging times which provide extraordinary opportunities for those with vision and dedication.  “And those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”  Aloha.

Pat DeLeon, former APA President – HPA -- December, 2017

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