Reflections on the 20th Annual Zarrow Symposium

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Zarrow Symposium Logo 2014

Last week, I attended the 20th annual Zarrow Symposium, a mental health conference that attracted close to 700 attendees.  One of the highlights was a talk given by former U.S. Representative from Rhode Island, Patrick Kennedy.  I continue to reflect on many things that he said about the challenges of getting the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act passed in 2008.  He described the bill as simply stating that “the brain is part of the body.”  Kennedy described elected officials who voted against the bill despite sharing privately with him that they had family members directly affected by mental illness and addiction.   He stated he was told that back in the states they represented, people still thought of this as a “moral issue and not a medical” one.  Something else I heard Kennedy say in an interview leading up to the symposium was that mental illness and addiction are issues of chemistry and not character.  These sound bites encapsulate what we in the mental health community are constantly trying to communicate to de-stigmatize mental illness and addiction.  We know that these are diseases of the brain.

There were many informative breakout sessions at the Zarrow Symposium, and Brookhaven Hospital was well represented by Dr. Rolf B. Gainer and Ron Broughton who delivered well-received presentations.  Dr. Gainer educated attendees about social role return after an individual experiences a traumatic brain injury.  Mr. Broughton discussed the ethics of autonomy and beneficence in working with people with a disability.

We are so fortunate to have true advocates like Maxine and the late Jack Zarrow who, along with the Mental Health Association Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, have been putting together this symposium since 1994.  I’m honored to be part of the planning committee for the conference, and it is one of the highlights of my year.

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