Enough Already! Stop Raising Awareness and Do Something
May 14, 2021
May 14, 2021
~ This article reposted with permission from the author, Hugh Davis, Wisconsin Family Ties ~
This past week was designated Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, as have all first full weeks in May for more than two decades. Across the nation, there were articles, proclamations, promotions, and events. Thousands upon thousands of person-hours were spent in planning for these activities. Is it worth it?
The “awareness” phenomenon is not unique to mental health: The US Department of Health and Human Services lists 225 national health observances on its website1. Over the past decade, however, more people have come to question the benefit of awareness days. “Days, weeks, months are dedicated to the awareness of different health conditions, often without a clear definition of what ‘awareness’ means, or what, exactly, is supposed to come of it.”2
Some researchers are finding that awareness days are not only ineffective, they may also be harmful. “If left unchecked, health awareness days may do little more than reinforce ideologies of individual responsibility and the false notion that adverse health outcomes are simply the product of misinformed behaviors.”3 People who have experienced mental health challenges concur. Poet and activist Faith Boersma states that awareness-raising without consciousness-raising is “a cementing of the very systems of oppression that have been dehumanizing those of us with labels of ‘mentally ill’ for centuries.”4
Over the past twenty years, Wisconsin Family Ties has helped perpetuate this myth of awareness- raising. We played the game with politicians, policymakers, and providers. We planned and participated in events, and we received numerous gubernatorial proclamations declaring Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
Despite decades of awareness-raising in our state, Wisconsin still has one of the worst children’s mental health systems in the nation. Data from SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Uniform Reporting System indicate that Wisconsin’s children’s mental health system ranks 48th among all states.5
If improvement doesn’t follow awareness, then what do we do? “To move the needle on the issues we care about the most, research and experience both show that we must define actionable and achievable calls to action that will lead a specific group of people to do something they haven’t done before.”6
Let’s change the game.
We believe it’s time to reimagine human services. We envision a children’s mental health system that provides services and supports of sufficient duration and intensity to alter the trajectory of Wisconsin’s most at-risk youth permanently. We see a system aligned with research on the “social determinants of health”7 instead of the “medical model,”8 which has failed to produce promised outcomes.
We want to ensure that we never forget the “human” part of human services. We want a children’s mental health system built on a deeper understanding of children and families and less judgment, a system that views “relationship” as a primary intervention.
From this day forward, we dedicate ourselves to making this vision a reality. We will no longer participate in awareness days – just meaningful, focused, intense action to transform our children’s mental health system.
If you’re interested in that same vision for Wisconsin’s children, we invite you to join us. Drop an email to Joe Oswald, Wisconsin Family Ties’ communications and policy director, at email@example.com, and let’s get going.
Hugh Davis is executive director of Wisconsin Family Ties. The group advocates for improving kids’ mental health services. Wisconsin Family Ties (WFT) is a statewide, nonprofit organization run by families for families that include children and adolescents with social, emotional or behavioral challenges
Hugh Davis, BS, is the Executive Director for Wisconsin Family Ties (WFT). As the father of four children who have mental health needs, he brings a strong family perspective to his role. His experience navigating complex systems to secure treatment and services for his children led to a career change and his current position with WFT, a statewide, parent-run nonprofit serving families that include children with social, emotional or behavioral challenges. Since Mr. Davis became director in 2003, WFT has become recognized as the premier children’s mental health advocate in Wisconsin. The organization has worked diligently to enhance public understanding of children with mental health needs and their families. Mr. Davis served as co-chair of the state’s Children Come First Advisory Committee, which oversees Wisconsin’s wraparound systems of care initiatives. He also is a founding member of the national Family-Run Executive Director Leadership Association (FREDLA), located in Ellicott City, Maryland. Mr. Davis holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin—Platteville.