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Mental Health America CEO and President Schroeder Stribling is presented with a necklace by medicine man Aaron D. Sam on conference stage.

The opening day of the 2023 Mental Health America Conference, Next Gen Prevention, kicked off with nearly 700 people in Washington, D.C., and over 10,000 virtual attendees tuning in from across the country and globe.

Jennifer Bright, MHA Board Chair, welcomed Aaron D. Sam, a traditional counselor/healer and medicine man at Tséhootsooí Medical Center, to the main stage. Sam sang a traditional Navajo Nation song about coexistence and presented MHA President and CEO Schroeder Stribling with a gift.

“At Mental Health America, we exist to promote mental health and well-being, prevent mental illness and crisis, and advocate for all those in need,” Stribling said. “This year, we are expanding and deepening our longstanding commitment to mental health and well-being in keeping with our strategic plan, Next Gen Prevention.” Learn more about the basis of this year’s conference theme and Mental Health America’s new strategic plan focusing on Next Gen Prevention.

Vivek H. Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General, addressed via video the youth mental health crisis. “[Youth] stories and the data that we’ve been gathering made it clear that depression, suicide, anxiety, and loneliness have been profound challenges for our kids, and they are stealing the future of our children.” He also thanked Mental Health America and the conference attendees for their work in mental health spaces.

Carmela Wallace, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and the mother of Juice WRLD (also known as Jarad Higgins), had a conversation with Mahmoud Khedr, a former MHA Youth Mental Health Leadership Council member and new MHA Board member. Wallace, upon Juice WRLD's passing, established Live Free 999 to help those who suffer in silence and normalize the conversation about mental health and addiction. She spoke about how she tried to get her son to open up and talk about his anxiety.

“We found an African American male [therapist] that he could talk to, and that was key,” Wallace said. “He needed to feel comfortable. It’s different when [youth] have someone they feel comfortable with.” She told other parents to “listen to your children, take the judgment off, and let them know you’re there for them.”

MHA’s 2023 Clifford W. Beers Award was presented to Antoine B. Craigwell. The award, MHA’s highest honor, was created in 1976 and is presented annually to a consumer of mental health and/or substance abuse services who best reflects the example set by Beers in his efforts to improve conditions for, and attitudes toward, people with mental illnesses. Craigwell produced the documentary “You Are Not Alone”; founded DBGM, Inc., a non-profit organization committed to raising awareness of the underlying factors contributing to depression and suicidal ideation in Black gay men; and provides training in LGBTQ+ peoples of color cultural competency, mental health, and HIV.

“When I attempted suicide in 1999, I did not know of anywhere I could turn,” Craigwell said. “In our society there is a sense of things we should not talk about.” He went on to say, “Community members, it is important that, just as much as we can talk about having a stomach ache, a headache, our ankles are hurting, let’s easily talk about our mental health.”

Breakout sessions led by experts, advocates, and individuals from across the country covered a range of topics, such as the youth mental health implications of the climate crisis, 988, state courts’ response to mental illness, and the role of technology in preventative mental Health care.

Watch a recap