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Inspiration from NatCon

Have you ever attended a conference for professional development, and walked away wondering if it was worth your time or what you gained from it? I know that I have a time or two, but this year’s National Council for Mental Wellbeing’s NatCon (NatCon) was anything but that! This is a conference I have been attending for more than a decade, and it is always good, but this year’s felt even more relevant and meaningful. There were at least 60 Nebraskans among the sea of 6,000 plus behavioral health professionals in attendance, and every Nebraskan I spoke to, felt the same about this year’s conference.

From the opening keynote by Marcus Buckingham who focused on the importance of talents, strengths, positivity, and connection, to the numerous keynotes on AI, to the wrap up with Michelle Obama (yes, Michelle Obama!), the conference was likely the best I have ever attended. While there was a lot of focus on AI and preparing to use it in the behavioral health space, there was more focus on the human connection and the important role that plays in everyone’s mental wellness. We know that AI is already here and only going to be enhanced in the coming years, but I loved Dr. Daniel Kraft’s message that it is not here to replace those of us in the behavioral health realm, but more that we should look at it as “Augmented Intelligence,” and that it is here to support and enhance our work, not replace us in the workforce. I also left his session not being able to decide if I was amazed or terrified at where AI is and where it is going! All I know is that it is here to stay, so hopefully we can all find ways to use it for good and to enhance our important roles in our communities.

Sidney Howard, an Outreach Coordinator with The Kim Foundation, and I co-presented on the impact of social media on youth mental health with a partner organization out of Oregon. We had more than 700 people in attendance, with dozens of people staying after to make a connection and ask questions. I want to give a huge shout out to Sidney. She was amazing, and you never would have guessed it was her first presentation on the national stage. Way to go Sidney!

I also attended a wonderful session on Stop Stigma Together, which is a national initiative that aligns so closely with our work at the foundation of ending stigma around mental health and suicide. They have developed spots with the Ad Council geared toward at-risk populations that were just incredible and have opportunities for other organizations throughout the country to join in their efforts, so I am excited to see where The Kim Foundation might play a part. One of the strongest advocates in behavioral health, Patrick Kennedy, had a great point along the lines of stigma and discrimination during his presentation. He said, “We (as a country) didn’t get rid of racism, but we made it illegal to discriminate based on race. We (as a country) may never get rid of stigma, but we can make it illegal to discriminate based on one’s behavioral health condition.” Amen, Patrick!

While I could go on for pages about the take-aways of my jam-packed three days at NatCon, I will close with some key takeaways from former First Lady, Michelle Obama. No matter what side of the political line you stand, no one could disagree with her overall message of love, unity, and our responsibility to the next generation. She, and other presenters throughout the week, focused on all of us having more in common than we have in difference, and what we do matters to those coming up behind us. It certainly does! She tied so much back to mental health and the impact isolation or connection can have on someone’s overall mental wellness. It was a wonderful reminder to connect – in person, not through a device! – with others, and build trusted, meaningful connections.

I was so energized by the connections I made at NatCon, and the time I got to spend with fellow colleagues who work with us here in Nebraska. We are all stronger together, and it made me truly appreciate the strong collaborations we have with our partners – both new and old!

Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director

Julia received her J.D. from Creighton University in 2005, and her BS in Journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. She has been with The Kim Foundation since 2011, and prior to that worked for local non-profits doing development, strategic planning, communications and advancement. She has a passion for helping people and improving lives, and serves on the Executive Committee for Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, as the 2015 Hill Day State Captain for the state of Nebraska, and as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, BHECN Advisory Committee, RESPECT Advisory Board, Connections Advisory Board and the Project Propel Planning Group.