June 28, 2005 – Ten Thousand Helpers of St. Croix Inc.; V. I. Alliance for Mental Health Consumers and Survivors and V. I. Advocacy have joined forces to begin talks on the mental health issues facing the Virgin Islands. The groups are presenting a conference on mental health entitled "Take Control: Mental Illness, Mental Health, Treatment and the Community." The two-day conference will be held June 30 and July 1 at Gertrude's Restaurant, St. Croix.
Dr. Denise Marshall, V.I. director of mental health, said in a letter to the group that the conference is a "step in the right direction towards improving the way mental health care needs to be provided in the territory." She said one way to help the mentally ill in the territory is to apply the principals of the New Freedom Initiative.
In 2001, President Bush announced the NFI, a program that promotes the full participation of people with disabilities in all areas of society by increasing access to assistive and universally designed technologies, expanding educational and employment opportunities and promoting increased access into daily life. By building on these principals, the lives of the mentally ill in the Virgin Islands can be improved, Marshall said.
The conference will feature several knowledgeable speakers on the subject of mental health, including Abdi H. Wehelie, a government health advisor and a former consultant to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS); Dr. Michelle Clark, a senior psychiatrist and the chair of the Committee of Black Psychiatrists of the American Psychiatric Association and a member of their board of Trustees. Also on the list of speakers is Jennifer Brown, the director of training and communications for On Our Own of Maryland, Inc., a statewide mental health consumer education and advocacy network.
Locally, the conference was organized by Edith Moore; Judy Bain, volunteer CEO of Ten Thousand Helpers; and Margaret Brandy, president of the V.I. Alliance for Mental Health. Bain has been an advocate for the mentally ill in the Virgin Islands for many years. She is a former V.I. government occupational therapist and has extensive therapeutic experience with person with psychiatric disabilities. She is also a founding member of the V.I. Alliance for the Mentally Ill and a member of V.I. Advocacy Inc.'s Protection and Advocacy Advisory Council for Persons with Mental Illness.
Bain said work on the conference began in January with a vision of providing education and a service to the community and to tackle a problem that many just ignore. "We started with zero funds," said Bain, adding that the groups held fundraisers and wrote a grant for more funds. "We were successful in getting a grant form the Bennie and Martha Benjamin Foundation." She said the conference could not have happened without the foundation grant.
Registration for the conference is $75 per day and $125 for both days. If four persons are attending from the same agency, the cost is $115. Senior citizens can register for $50 per day. Breakfast and lunch is provided daily.
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