Creating Community Solutions
Department of Health & Human Services
Responding to the Sandy Hook tragedy, in January 2013, President Barack Obama directed Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Secretary Arne Duncan of the US Department of Education to launch a national dialogue on mental health. Secretary Sebelius recognized that mental illness affects nearly every family, yet there is a continued struggle to have an open and honest conversation around the issue. Misperceptions, discrimination, fears of social consequences, and the discomfort associated with talking about such illnesses all tend to keep people silent; but with early intervention, many people with mental illnesses can and do lead productive and full lives.
The challenge facing the administration was how to convene a national participation process that would help Americans to learn more about mental health issues, assess how mental health problems affect their communities and younger populations, and decide what actions to take to improve mental health in their families, schools, and communities.
Officials from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within HHS, understood the need to collaborate with the field of deliberative democracy in order to design a process that integrated multiple levels of collaboration. Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer of the National Institute for Civil Discourse called together the leaders of five other deliberative democracy organizations to spearhead Creating Community Solutions (CCS). Under the umbrella of CCS, 230 community conversations on mental health have occurred to date.