We started the Change Maker Awards two years ago to give a “shout out” to the people and organizations moving us forward in the field of child and adolescent mental health. Just as the country needed to know about the millions of young people with mental health and learning disorders who were struggling and finding ways to thrive, we thought, highlighting these Change Makers would allow people to connect with and support them. To counter a public health crisis in children’s mental health, with lack of access to care and stigma and misunderstanding rampant, we don’t just need a movement. We need many movements.
I’m happy to say that we appear to be succeeding. The Change Maker Awards have put us, and all of you, in touch with amazing people and organizations. Brandon Marshall; Maria Mercedes Avila; Active Minds; Rep. Patrick Kennedy. The list goes on and on—and we need your help to keep growing it, by nominating a Local Hero for the upcoming 2017 Awards in May.
Also on that list is Muffy Walker, who founded a growing organization called the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF). The IBPF was our Outstanding Organization winner last year, and it just so happens that this week I attended an event they held in New York. It gave me confidence that together we are indeed at the center of many like-minded movements. It made me think that the time truly seems at hand for us as a society to change the way we think and treat and talk about child and adolescent mental health.
The person who gave me that feeling was director Paul Dalio, a recipient of the IBPF IMAGINE Award who was speaking at the New York event. Paul himself has bipolar disorder, or, as he prefers, is “touched with fire.” His talk centered on his first experience of mania, which was both terrifying and exhilarating for him, and what happened afterwards, when he was hospitalized.
“You come down from something that to you was beautiful,” Paul said, “and you are told you have a defect.” He described being told that with medication he could “get by,” which was not only uninspiring for a wildly creative young man; it pushed him to embrace chaos.
These are the messages our young people with mental health and learning disorders hear all too often: they are broken, they are weird, they are limited. In fact, as we have learned, they are unique, they are courageous, and they are the strongest people we know.
In his talk, Paul called for something akin to a communications revolution in mental health. He was speaking about bipolar disorder but I think it applies to all of the young people we know.
“What are they going to be told that they are?” he wondered. “It damn well better be inspiring. I can’t be, ‘Here’s how you get by.’ We need a new narrative.”
Paul Dalio, Muffy Walker and the IBPF are working on that new narrative. Every day at the Child Mind Institute we are helping children and families find ways to make their stories happy, healthy and full of potential — through clinical care, cutting-edge research, and public education and advocacy.
And people and organizations around the country and around the globe are doing the same thing. We just need to connect their voices with willing ears, and keep creating movements that are worthy of the courageous kids and families we are trying to help. That’s what the Change Maker Awards are all about.