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Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy to kick off mental health event in Santa Rosa

The Press Democrat - 3/15/2017

March 15--Patrick Kennedy, a former Rhode Island congressman and longtime mental health advocate, told local and state officials Tuesday that California's efforts to broaden the reach of mental health services among California's diverse communities represented a necessary and nearly unrivaled approach to treating mental illness.

"To your credit, you've really taken this one and you're way ahead of most other places, unfortunately," Kennedy said at a reception in Santa Rosa.

The gathering, at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel, came on the eve of a two-day mental health care conference aimed at highlighting local programs that bridge the gap between mental health services and minority groups such as the African American, Latino and LGBT communities.

Kennedy, who represented the 1st District of Rhode Island from 1995 to 2011, will Wednesday give the keynote speech, describing his ongoing campaign to require coverage by insurers for mental health care.

As a congressman, Kennedy was among the lead sponsors of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which requires insurance companies to cover mental health services at the same level they do for physical health care.

Kennedy said alienation and isolation is the first characteristic of anyone suffering from mental illness, so outreach in these communities is crucial.

"Anything that we can do to bring them in and make them feel a part of, as opposed to apart from, that's the real goal of good mental health treatment," he said.

This year's conference, called the Cultural Competence Summit, is being hosted by the Sonoma County Department of Health Services. The gathering, the 20th, is held every two years and draws mental health representatives from counties across the state.

Michael Kennedy, Sonoma County's director of mental health -- no relation to Patrick Kennedy -- said the conference will showcase several local community-based mental health programs that have recently received state funding.

One of the programs, the Sonoma County Indian Health Project's Aunties and Uncles Program, a mentoring effort for Native American youth, recently landed a six-year, $1.45 million state grant. The program was previously funded by the county mental health department.

The other is an effort of the Latino Service Providers Sonoma aimed at decreasing stigma and discrimination over mental health issues in the Latino community. The project recently received a five-year, $1.18 million state grant.

Workshops will be held examining each of the programs.

Michael Kennedy said local and statewide efforts to do more outreach in "diverse communities" bucks what he said is a backlash acceptance of diversity nationwide.

"I'm just really happy everybody is here to have this discussion at a time when there's a lot of negativity around inclusiveness," he said.

Patrick Kennedy's keynote speech is set for 9 a.m. at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel. The speaker following Kennedy, Kevin Berthia, is a suicide survivor and suicide-prevention advocate.

Berthia, born with a genetic depression disorder, attempted suicide in 2005, at the age of 22, on the Golden Gate Bridge. The young man, however, was talked down by CHP Sgt. Kevin Briggs, now retired.

A photograph of Berthia standing on an outer ledge of the Golden Gate Bridge, his forehead leaning against the bridge as Briggs talks to him, has become an iconic image depicting the plight of those who suffer mental illness.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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(c)2017 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

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