Wisconsin Communities Encouraged to ‘Think Differently & Innovate Uniquely’ to Improve Mental Health

“How do we open an entire community to the hidden issues of mental health?”

Milwaukee County Mental Health board member Brenda Wesley posed the question to a room of experts, policymakers and health care advocates, who were taking part in an event to help find solutions.

“We talk about it. We start the conversations,” she said. “We tell the stories of strength, encouragement and tenacity. But we also tell the stories of despair, discrimination and stigma.” 

Brenda, who authors “Pieces: In My Own Voice,” a stage production depicting youth as they deal with the stigma and labels of mental health issues, brought to life the challenges many face every day during UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin’s third annual Innovation Day.

Throughout the event, those in attendance heard from Ellen Sexton, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and a number of leading mental health experts. All addressed their desire for improving mental health care, provided suggested solutions and committed to focusing on initiatives helping to tackle mental health challenges in the state.

Experts addressed the many mental health issues in the state, including depression, bullying, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), plus a multitude of conditions that impact people of all races, ages and socioeconomic classes, with the topic of suicide leading much of the discussion.

“With a staggering 800 suicides last year in Wisconsin,” said Martina Gollins-Graves, president and CEO, Mental Health America of Wisconsin, “approximately half saw a mental health provider four to six weeks prior to committing suicide.”

The nonprofit works to promote mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, leading the charge on suicide prevention statewide. 

“Many think our campaign to get to zero suicides is an outrageous idea, but what number is acceptable? What number is acceptable for the parents that lose a child, or child that loses a parent?” Martina asked. “There are tools and strategies that can be deployed in our community to reduce the number of suicides, and coming together in an environment like this allows us to share our knowledge and tackle mental health issues that often lead to suicide.”

Each year, UnitedHealthcare hosts Innovation Day to focus on a different issue that plagues the state — and communities around the country — to bring together thought leaders with new and innovative ideas to address challenges faced.

“At UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin, we want to understand how we can redefine access to health for our members throughout the state,” Ellen said. “By working in partnership with people on the frontlines of access, we are able to develop innovative ways to build their capacity and together reach our goals.”