County-wide collaboration works to reduce mental health stigma

NEWS // August 23, 2017

Community Alliance for Healthy Minds Unites Community Through Annual Forum

Not every organization gets its start from a great idea or a nifty invention. In many cases, the catalyst for an organization may often stem from an unmet need or a traumatic experience. Such is the case for Community Alliance for Healthy Minds (CAHM), a nonprofit that joined Live Well San Diego as a partner in 2014. Founders Connie and Rex Kennemer formed the organization after their lives were touched by tragedy twelve years ago when they lost their only son to suicide, nearly a year after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

CAHM came to exist through the spirit of community after loss. According to Mrs. Kennemer, their community was an integral part of their healing process. “Our community came around us and gave us the ability to move forward. Their support allowed us to see that maybe we could not only live, but thrive again,” she shared.

Resiliency after the loss of a loved one can look different to each individual and many times we do not recognize it as such.  Simply getting up in the morning and getting through the day are small achievements and a part of resilience. Dr. Susan Writer, a clinical psychologist at Aurora Behavioral Healthcare and Board Member of CAHM states, “Resilience is about persistence to keep going on. Part of that resilience is about recognizing that other things are going to come at us even though we thought we got through it.”

Time and time again we see communities come together after a tragic event to help the wounded, to comfort those affected by loss, and to rebuild their own communities. Dr. Writer emphasizes the need for mental health and substance abuse awareness within communities. “We need to reach the average individual community member because we feel it is so important that communities rally around this notion of resilience and understanding, especially when it comes to mental health and substance use.”  

Dr. Writer also emphasizes the importance of trauma-informed care when it comes to behavioral health.  There is a need for providers to have the skills to recognize behavioral health triggers. Many doctors and teachers do not receive formal education in trauma-informed care, which exposes their patients and students to inadvertent reliving of trauma or to new trauma,” she says. “Trauma-informed care allows for individuals who otherwise do not have a voice to have a voice. It also contributes to the notion that we need to start seeing people as people and not numbers.”

CAHM’s “From Hopelessness to Hope and Healing” forum, held every year in memory of Connie and Rex Kennemer’s son, is dedicated to increasing the resiliency of families touched by mental health and/or substance use. The forum focuses on sharing information about mental illness, raising community awareness, and rallying support for community programs and suicide prevention efforts for adolescents and young adults.

This year, CAHM will hold their 11th Annual Forum for Healthy Minds on Saturday, October 14 at the Student Union at California State University San Marcos. The forum and lunch is FREE for all who attend. CAHM is 100% volunteer-based and relied on fundraising for events and programming.

CAHM members describe the Forum as a day of hope. “The Forum instills the strong sense of community that we were met with when we lost our son. I think CAHM is very personal and when you go to a CAHM Forum you enjoy being there. There is music, there is life, and there is true community. You see the same people that have been coming for years. It’s what we had to have. We would not have made it through without a community around us,” shared Mrs. Kennemer.

This year’s forum will include workshops for community members of all ages, advocates and care providers. There will also be a resource fair and door prizes. The forum will open with keynote speaker, Dr. Mark S. Komrad, who has a private practice in general psychiatry and author of You Need Help: A Step-by-Step Plan to Convince a Loved One to Get Counseling. 

Dr. Writer adds, “Everyone that is part of CAHM does it with heart, on top of their daily lives, on top of their own personal mental health and medical issues, and on top of their own work. It speaks to how important this is for all of us.”

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