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Allison Schmitt on stage with Jillian Hughes at 2022 Conference

Allison Schmitt, 10-time world champion swimming medalist, sat down with MHA’s EVP of Communications, Jillian Hughes, to discuss living with depression and her decision to speak out publicly about it after her cousin April died by suicide. “I was scared to say anything,” Schmitt recalled, “I remember the first time I spoke to media about it. I wasn’t able to finish…it made me feel bare. I didn’t have that blanket over me to protect myself, but it was also a weight off.”

She said she continues to speak about it now because, “if there’s someone new in the room I can relate to and help, that is my mission.”

Swimming, she said, helped her through it: "I can proudly say sports saved my life. And I credit that for why I'm here."

But she also feels that there needs to be a lot more support available: “It feels like America has a hole. And a movement to talk about it is beginning to change it, but we need a lot more resources.”

Annual Conference Speakers Highlight Need for Strategic Leadership

Congressman Jamie Raskin, U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, Kana Enomoto, Director of Brain Health for McKinsey Health Institute, Utah State Rep. Steve Eliason, John Draper, EVP at Vibrant Emotional Health spoke about strategic leadership during crisis times. “The innovations that are most important are going to be along prevention lines,” Draper said. “My wish for you is to be looking in your home and your community, and take care of yourselves and others. Crisis care starts at home,” he added. 

“Connecting people's brains and hearts is critical to passing good legislation,” said Eliason, “Find where you can make a difference and go out and make your mark.”

Natasha De Veauuse Brown of the GSU School of Public Health and Dontay Williams and Lorenzo Lewis of The Confess Project led a breakout session on training Black barbers to be mental health advocates for their clients and communities. “We are turning barbershops into the new reimagined health centers of America,” said Lewis. “This is the place where Black men can feel comfortable, supported, not judged,” Brown added.

Debbie Plotnick, MHA’s EVP of State and Federal Advocacy, and Elliot Pinsly of the Behavioral Health Foundation co-led a breakout session on deflection versus diversion in community care. “A deflection program is only as good as the options available for care,” said Pinsly, “ the end of the day it’s got to be available right there when they need it.”