Five Question Fridays with Paul Gionfriddo

Five Question Fridays with Paul Gionfriddo

Welcome to the first installment of our ‘Five Question Fridays’ interview series, where we will be talking to some of the Health and Human Service industry’s leading thought leaders about everything from technology to policy. Check back here every Friday to learn from some of the industry’s most respected speakers, authors, executives, and experts.

Our first guest is Paul Gionfriddo. Paul is the CEO of Mental Health America, the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental health and to promoting the overall mental health of all Americans. In addition to working a variety of hugh-level health and mental-health related positions throughout his impressive career, Paul is also an author and public speaker, raising awareness for mental health issues.

Check out our ‘Five Question Fridays’ interview with Paul Gionfriddo below:

Last year, Mental Health America collaborated with Walgreens to increase screenings for mental health and promote mental health awareness. How did this partnership come about and what were the results? 

Walgreens and MHA talked for some time about how we could collaborate to improve mental health services and information for people who visit the Walgreens website. Ultimately, we agreed that we would offer mental health content to Walgreens for its website, along with a link to our online screening program. Walgreens in turn helped to promote the partnership during Mental Health Month in both 2015 and 2016, and on an ongoing basis, and offered follow-up online services to people who completed screens. We’re very proud of the partnership, which will help us meet a target of 3 million completed screenings by the end of 2017.

Mental Health America recently hosted its annual MHA Conference in Washington, DC, which attracted hundreds of attendees from all around the country. What were some of your favorite moments and biggest takeaways from the event?

We like to say that while there may be other conferences you have to attend; the MHA conference is the one conference you want to attend.  We take on interesting themes, and present some of the best information out there. This year, we focused on “sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” which attracted a great deal of interest and attention! There were many great moments – Patrick and Amy Kennedy talking together about recovery and the importance of family support, Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child talking about how she overcomes depression and singing a cappella for us, New York Times Best-Seller Glennon Doyle talking about her amazing road to recovery, and great speeches by Senators Franken and Kaine that bookended the conference.  But I loved our Clifford Beers Dinner, Legislative Awards breakfast, and Media Awards luncheon, at which we honored many individuals who have done amazing things to promote mental health and given us roadmaps to recovery.

Our 2017 State of Workforce Management survey revealed an astounding 97% of CEOs of nonprofit Health and Human Service organizations are looking to increase their investment in digital strategies over the next year. How have digital tools and strategies played a part in Mental Health America’s success over recent years?

We launched our online screening program in 2014. In just three years, we have made mental health screenings available digitally to more than 2.3 million people, making it the largest program of its kind in the nation.  Much of our constituency is under the age of 35, and so we have made communication through digital media a cornerstone of our work.  Our Facebook and Twitter followings have grown from 100,000 to 350,000, and our email list now exceeds 50,000. Our Mental Health Month reach (which has been MHA’s signature public education event since 1949) now exceeds 25 million, and much of this has come about through our digital efforts.  Our “B4Stage4” program – which we use as an umbrella to promote upstream identification and intervention and services integration – is designed for a digital world, and has paid off handsomely for us in increased recognition and awareness.

According to Mental Health America, one in five adults – more than 40 million Americans – have a mental health condition. Do you feel that demand for your services have risen in recent year? If so, how has the increase in demand affected your organization?

This percentage hasn’t really changed in recent years, but here’s what has increased our presence in our “market.” Half of mental illnesses emerge by the age of 14; three-quarters by the age of 25. These are the individuals who most frequently seek us out – when they are first recognizing and worrying about signs of mental health conditions. We have developed more programming – “Back to School,” “Life on Campus,” “Screening-to-Supports (S2S)” and more – that is targeted to this audience.  As a result, more people are coming to us for help and support.

Moving forward, with the MHA Conference in the rearview, what’s next for Mental Health America?

I’ve mentioned S2S; we’ll be doing a full launch of that later this year.  People who take one or more of our screens will get customized referrals to services they want in four domains – information and education; referrals to services and supports; Do-It-Yourself self-help tools; and engagement with peers.  We’re excited about the potential of S2S, and think it will make a huge difference in people’s lives. In addition, we’ve just launched a new national peer certification program, which will give people with lived experience new opportunities to work side-by-side with other service providers – including clinicians – to aid people with mental health conditions along pathways to recovery. Credential peers will be able to command higher salaries and, we hope, take their credential across state lines with them.  Minority Mental Health Month (July) is upon us, and our school-based programs will pick up steam in the fall.  We’ll be continuing to do a lot of federal advocacy work over the coming year, and people should stay tuned for our 2018 national conference, which is open to everyone. It will once again take place in Washington DC, from June 14-16, 2018, and the theme will once more be a compelling one!

We’d like to thank Paul for his participation and incredible insight. Make sure to follow Paul and Mental Health America on Twitter for more updates. If you’re interested in participating in our interview series, send an email to jclark@datis.com. This DATIS blog may not be shared or repurposed without permission.

Written by James Clark