University of Miami Hospital Hosts Sold-Out “STOP the Stigma: A Mental Health Summit”

University of Miami Hospital and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, along with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), were host to “STOP the Stigma: A Mental Health Summit.” The event was designed to educate the public and professionals on the latest research, diagnoses, intervention and best practices to optimize recovery. The summit organizers also hoped to help lift the stigma often associated with mental illness.

“Stigma in mental illness isolates the sufferer and their families and shatters their lives,” said Susan M. Racher, Director of NAMI and chair of the May 2 conference. “Those afflicted are generally young people who are struck down in their 20s. Left untreated or inadequately treated, the ensuing disability that results is devastating to patients, their families and our community.”

The University of Miami was represented by Charles Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Center on Aging; Philip Harvey, Ph.D., professor and Director of the Division of Psychology; Sara Czaja, Ph.D., professor and Scientific Director of the Center on Aging; and Ushimbra Buford, M.D., assistant professor of clinical psychiatry. They presented advances in early detection, intervention and treatment of mental illness, and positive outcomes that can occur with effective medical management.

“What a remarkably uplifting day to witness the coming together of mental health professionals, patients and advocates all dedicated to the elimination of stigma toward those afflicted with severe psychiatric illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression,” said Nemeroff. “Compared to resources available for treatment of other major medical disorders, such as cancer or heart disease, treatment for those with psychiatric disorders is extraordinarily difficult to access due to a lack of true parity and the relatively few treatment facilities available.

“With the advances in our understanding of the causes of these disorders, our ability to help patients will continue to improve. Whether our patients can access such care is largely a function of funding, and unfortunately it is currently not even close to being sufficient, neither from the federal or state government nor from private insurers. When will true mental health reform be a priority?”

“The summit was a rallying point that empowered people and local organizations with a vision, clear messaging and actions they could take to advance progress,” Racher said. “It brought together passionate scientific thought leaders in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, such as Doctors Nemeroff, Harvey, Czaja and Buford, with influential national advocates Elyn Saks and Pete Earley, and ardent local leadership from Judge Steven Leifman and John Dow. It all came from different perspectives but with the same message: to transform the way we treat mental illness.”

The conference drew about 270 guests and was a sell-out. It was timed to coincide with National Mental Health Awareness Month, which is held each May. National organizers also selected Miami for the conference site because of the region’s high number of people with mental illness.

“Surprisingly, very few people know that Miami-Dade County is home to the largest percentage of people with serious mental illness of any urban community in the United States – 9.1 percent of the population. That amounts to about 200,000 people,” said Racher. “Stigma stands in the way of resources, recovery and reclaiming the productive lives of those who become ill. The University of Miami is in the forefront of advancing these best practices. Our message is that recovery is achievable. People can get better.”

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