Fixing Our System: Takeaways From the 2015 Gathering on Mental Health and the Church

By , Educator, Nonprofit Leader, Court Appointed Special Advocate for Foster Youth, Ed.D.



“Mental health could be the Civil Rights Movement of the next decade,” said Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. When it comes to mental health in the United States, our system is broken. Nearly 40,000 Americans lose their lives to suicide each year, which is almost twice as many deaths caused by homicide. Fifty percent of health care issues arise before age 14, and 75 percent begin by age 24. About 61.5 million Americans, or one in four adults, experience mental illness in a year.

There is a stigma surrounding mental illness since it is something that is difficult to measure, and this keeps people from seeking and receiving help when they need it most. Founders of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, Rick and Kay Warren, lost their son Matthew Warren to suicide at 27, so they have sought to learn everything they can about mental illness. Rick Warren, who mentioned, “It is not a sin to be sick,” helps educate the community about mental health through his conference, the Gathering on Mental Health & the Church. I attended this year, and it was wonderful how so many people, including speakers and attendees, opened up about issues such as loved ones committing suicide, having schizophrenia, and alcohol and drug abuse. There were many fantastic speakers at the conference including former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy; former California State Senator Darrell Steinberg; U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy; Woodway, Texas Police Chief Yost Zakhary; and Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) President Kimberly Cripe.


Kennedy has dealt personally with mental health and substance abuse issues. He recently wrote A Common Struggle, and created the Kennedy Forum, which aims to transform the way mental health and addiction are addressed in our health care system. He said, “Insurance companies are limiting access to mental health care and we can no longer let them get away with it.” Kennedy added that it is essential to make them accountable, which means requiring the Secretary of Health and Human Services to mandate how insurance companies conduct utilization management. Until we determine how they decide to deny people mental health care, as they would never do for cancer or diabetes, we will never make progress.