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National Council for Behavioral Health Conference 2015

What do you get when you have Colin Powell, Patrick Kennedy, Ezekiel Emanuel, Ashley Judd, David Satcher, Melissa d’Arabian, Marin Ireland, Susan Cain, Dan Buettner, and a number of other phenomenal individuals speaking on mental and behavioral health in the beautiful sunshine of Orlando, Florida? You get the 2015 National Council Behavioral Health Conference! What an incredible opportunity for learning, networking, and growth that myself and approximately 25 other Nebraska behavioral health professionals experienced. And all while surrounded by more than 5,000 of our closest colleagues from around the country!

This is my second year attending the conference and it did not disappoint! The energy was palpable from the opening session until the very end as the National Council staff sent us off with a warm farewell. The conference provides you an opportunity to expand your normal thought process with new ideas that are working in other areas of the country, as well as share what you have found successful in your practices. In addition to the hundreds of potential breakout sessions we could attend on a wide variety of topics, there were a number of plenary sessions that left you feeling inspired, and ready to get back to Nebraska to implement this energy and these ideas.

One of my favorite moments was walking from one end of the Gaylord Palms Resort to the other to get to my next session, and I look over, and sure enough, Kevin Briggs was sitting there having coffee! THE Kevin Briggs that will be joining us in October for A Time for Hope & Healing, our annual fall luncheon. What a delightful surprise! He was incredibly gracious, and very personable. After our short conversation, I knew we had the right guy for the job. He is going to be incredible in October!

One morning I attended a powerful performance on domestic violence – A Streetcar Named Desire: The Domestic Violence Project – by the same company that will be performing Theater of War in Lincoln on May 11th. It was done incredibly well with professional actors, and delved into the trauma that victims of domestic violence experience, as well as those around them that are bystanders to the abuse. I also attended two peer centered presentations to glean ideas on how we can more effectively and uniformly adopt peer support workers into our workforce throughout our state.

I was pleasantly surprised by Colin Powell’s wit, humor, and insight, as he spoke on a number of difficult topics including his wife’s journey with depression over the years and his experience with saving individuals, and losing a few, to suicide over his years in the military. As he always does, Patrick Kennedy, spoke with such passion and vigor there wasn’t an individual in the room who wasn’t prepared to go out and start fighting the good fight to ensure parity was being implemented in their states and mental health became just as important as physical health to all Americans. Ezekiel Emanuel sparked controversy with some of his terms and ideas, but also provided you to push past your comfort zone and consider his point of view as well. He accepted feedback quite graciously afterward during the question and answer session, when one peer support specialist, suggested he use people first language when referring to someone who has a mental illness. We are always trying to do this at the foundation, and see many times, especially in the media where this isn’t done, so we were excited to hear her have the courage to correct him on it!

I can’t possibly get into all of the sessions we attended, but if you are looking for more information on the conference, please just let me know. It was a jam-packed few days, with so many opportunities for learning and growth. Despite being only a few minutes from Mickey and Minnie’s home base, we didn’t make it to Disney, but we did take some time to unwind and get to know some colleagues a bit more. We are already looking forward to National Council Conference 2016 in Vegas!


Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation
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 for three years, 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 as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the executive committee of the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, RESPECT Advisory Committee, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition and the Adolescent Mental Health Coalition. She also serves on the Women’s Fund Circles Board.