DMH administrators participated in a 2008 midyear moderated conference call with the Illinois chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-IL) representatives in June. The afternoon session covered a number of Division programs and state mental health concerns from a transformative frame of reference. Among the topics addressed were child and adolescent programs, consumer-driven initiatives, state-operated facilities, supported housing and employment programs, adult and juvenile forensics and the Mental Health Collaborative for Access and Choice. NAMI-IL Executive Director Lora Thomas updated DMH administrators of her organization's recent successes along with its far-reaching priorities with respect to Division objectives.

DMH Director Lorrie Rickman Jones praised the candid conversation between her staff and NAMI-IL representatives as a superb way to shed new light on Illinois' mental health endeavors. "Many of our current initiatives such as our recently launched public awareness campaign, "Say It Out Loud", have increased our visibility but we also have a number of activities that, while less noticeable to the public, spring from the same vision of expanding access to those who have traditionally been denied a voice", she remarked.

Transforming Program by Program

Reflecting on the fruitful DMH - NAMI-IL exchange, Transformation Director John Holton echoed that view, "As the state's mental health authority, we have a continuing obligation to the lead way for the many system-wide mental health transformative activities that are underway." Among those activities having the greatest impact is the MH Collaborative for Access and Choice ("the Collaborative" ) that opens new doors for providing funding and promoting accountability. Although this major initiative has long been in the works, the result is a major advance in consumer empowerment. DMH Acting Associate Director for Community Services Jackie Manker spearheads the Collaborative effort. She observes that although the challenge of achieving complete implementation continues, the goal is clearly in sight. "We're committed to ensuring the right care at the right time in the right amount."

In that same spirit, the Acting Associate Director for System Rebalancing Services, Brenda Hampton, noted that when it comes to Permanent Supported Housing (PSH) transformation means collaboration. She affirmed that the Division is working hand in hand with the Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc., Corporation for Supportive Housing and the Illinois Housing Development Authority to develop PSH opportunities for DMH-assisted consumers. "Many people believe that PSH is much more complicated than it really is. At bottom, it's really about moving into a real home, a permanent residence, where the consumer has full rights under the Illinois landlord/tenant statutes", she stated. "Just as important, although accepting treatment services is not necessary for keeping residency, we can provide flexible support services to help the consumer with his or her mental health needs based on their individual choices and preferences." PSH comes in the form of a studio/efficiency apartment, a one-bedroom apartment or a shared two bedroom (limited to two occupants).

Among the most dynamic of transformative venues is Mental Health & Justice. Forensics Bureau Chief Anderson Freeman oversees the Transformation Transfer Initiative, funded through the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA). It is a positive example of a statewide planning with the direct involvement of stakeholders in criminal justice, serving on 708 boards, or functioning as community providers and mental health advocates in reviewing policies and practices regarding individuals with a mental illness and/or co-occurring disorders in the criminal justice system in each of the five DHS regions.

Debra Ferguson, Associate Deputy Director for Forensics highlighted transformation efforts in the area of juvenile justice reform. She noted numerous ongoing partnerships with local, state and national organizations focused on ensuring the availability of mental health services at all points along the juvenile justice continuum. For example, the Mental Health Juvenile Justice program identifies youth in the juvenile justice system with serious mental illnesses and then links them to the appropriate community-based clinical services programs. The Associate Deputy Director stated, "Providing necessary mental health services, promoting recovery, facilitating family engagement and strengthening community partnerships are central to juvenile justice transformation."

Just the Beginning

As mentioned, other major mental health concerns and the state's response to them were highlighted during the call including more consumer empowerment successes such as: the Certified Recovery Support Specialist (CRSS) degree and Region One's Family Education Implementation group that, with the individual consumer's approval, systematically incorporates more substantive family involvement in community-based treatment.

The general consensus is that ongoing formal but frank conversations along are enormously beneficial to the state's mental health community. In the interim, both DMH and NAMI-IL representatives are increasingly opening the door to the prospect of substantive cooperative endeavors to address the needs of consumers. Director Rickman Jones acknowledges that "It would be a mistake to presume that moving ahead with innovative mental health care services and treatment options will be as easy as a walk in the park, especially during this very difficult economic time." Nonetheless she is excited about the possibilities. "Future successes have to be based on initiatives that are dynamic so that we can remain capable of responding to an ever-changing world. Staying true to our mission means that we must rely on the voices of consumers and their representatives."

The conversation between Division executive staff and NAMI-IL is evidence of that commitment on both sides.