September 25, 2019 marked the five year anniversary of I Understand (love heals) with a Celebration Dinner for 400 at Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I Understand is a non-profit organization that offers compassionate comfort to those affected by suicide and mental illness. They are also working to erase the stigma associated with suicide and mental illness, by establishing understanding and compassionate communities.
The partnership between I Understand and Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers has been long-standing. And Sanford Director of Operations Alec Green has served on their board of directors for three years. Alec was honored to speak at the celebration. Following is his presentation to the assembled benefactors and well-wishers:
Sanford’s Partnership with I Understand
Hello, my name is Alec Green and I work at Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers. I am a proud board member of I Understand (love heals).
Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers works with individuals struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Sanford’s partnership with I Understand is a natural one that stems from two organizations who share the belief that individuals struggling with mental health disorders and addiction deserve the same treatment, respect and dignity offered to individuals suffering from other chronic health conditions.
Almost a year ago two co-workers of mine started “I Understand Fridays”, and the staff at Sanford began the tradition of wearing I Understand T-shirts. I told Vonnie Woodrick about our I Understand Fridays, and she welcomed the opportunity to present the mission of I Understand to our team. Vonnie, with her bright smile, started the conversation by asking, “What do you understand?” This question left a room of therapists, nurses, and support staff speechless. Which I must say for the staff at Sanford is a rare occasion.
So, what do we understand?
We understand that addiction is a chronic brain disease that affects over 21 million Americans.
We understand that every day in America 175 people die from an opioid overdose.
We understand that worldwide, alcohol is responsible for 2.3 million deaths a year and in the U.S., it is the 3rd most preventable cause of death.
We understand that 90% of individuals who die by suicide have a mental health or substance use disorder.
We understand that simply wearing a T-shirt on Fridays can evoke some conversation, some awareness.
But we must go farther …
We have a mental health coverage crisis in the state of Michigan: out of the 1.76 million Michiganders who experience a mental illness, about 62% receive treatment, leaving more than 666,000 people with untreated mental illness.
Most Michiganders with a substance use disorder go untreated. Of the 638,000 experiencing a substance use disorder, only 20% receive treatment, the lowest penetration rate for any disease, leaving more than half a million people untreated. These numbers are staggering and frankly embarrassing.
But mental health remains an uncomfortable topic for many.
The stigma and misunderstanding has led to a lack of attention toward mental health disorders. We must begin treating those who experience mental health disorders with the same attitude and resources as other chronic medical conditions. If we treat mental health patients just like everyone else, more people will step forward to seek treatment.
So, how do we do that?
We must make sure that the companies we rely on for health insurance are following The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. The Parity Act was passed in order to ensure that individuals with mental health disorders get the same treatment and care as individuals with physical medical conditions.
We must talk about the continuing inequities. We must lead by example. And we must show everyone that it is okay to seek treatment. In the fall of 2012 I sought therapeutic intervention for an episode of anxiety, depression and panic disorder. I reflect on personal experience when I tell you that I believe my efforts toward mental health were no different than if I had been treated for any other chronic condition such as diabetes or asthma. I am passionate about helping the rest of the world understand this too.
Tonight, we fight the stigma of mental health disorders by coming together in support of I Understand. But we must go beyond tonight. We must continue to, as Vonnie likes to say, “talk about it”. We must make sure that we carry the message in this room to the next step, informing others.
We must continue to share our passion and change cultural perceptions by supporting individuals with mental health disorders. We must carry the message that those struggling with mental illness deserve the same treatment support as other chronic health conditions. We CAN make a difference, because one thing we all understand is that we are stronger together.
Alec Green – At the Five Year Celebration Dinner for I Understand (love heals)