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East High School, where the National Summit on Mental Health and Mental Fitness is being held. Photo by Jillian Queri

Mental Health Experts Are Coming to Denver for a New Summit

The first-ever National Summit on Mental Health and Mental Fitness gathers experts, practitioners, and community members to take a comprehensive look at how to treat mental illness and promote mental wellness.

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Katherine Winter-Sellery is on a mission. After spending about 30 years in Hong Kong, in the fall of 2017, the Denver native was welcomed back to the U.S. in a frightening way. Just months after dropping her daughter off at the University of Southern California for her freshman year of college, she received notification of a suspected shooter on campus. The campus was under lockdown, and Winter-Sellery couldn’t reach her daughter.

“I was rattled,” she says now. “Thankfully, it was a false alarm and everybody was fine.” But the experience awakened her to the reality that the United States had changed during her 30 years away. She saw a whole new landscape which she felt normalized school shootings, while neglecting to support survivors and those who lost loved ones to the tragedies.

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Winter-Sellery returned to Colorado and met with long-time friend U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-7), who she says encouraged her to look into the mental health side of the issue. The result of her efforts—the first-ever National Summit on Mental Health and Mental Fitness, sponsored by the International Association for Human Values—comes to Denver’s East High School on July 23–24.

“There is no one organization or one group that can tackle this,” Winter-Sellery says. “There are so many innovative, incredible people out there doing amazing work. Guess what? It’s not landing.”

The summit will gather a variety of mental health experts, researchers, nonprofit and business leaders, politicians, policy makers, and spiritual leaders from across the country and around the world for two full days of panels and breakout sessions covering mental health from a variety of angles, including how it intersects with overall health, education, business, the workplace, and spiritual life.

Among the lineup are Matt Vogl, executive director of the National Mental Health Innovation Center at the University of Colorado; Emma Seppala, science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and co-director of the Yale College Wellbeing Project; and Dara Ghahremani, associate research faculty at UCLA’s Laboratory of Molecular Neuroimaging.

In addition to panels and breakouts, attendees will be able to participate in training sessions on self-care, culture transformation, and resilience the day before the summit, as well as a large-scale meditation event in City Park on Wednesday evening put on by America Meditates. A policymaking luncheon will follow the event on Thursday, July 25, with the intent that the ideas and information shared throughout the summit will help drive deeper conversation about how to effectively support community mental health through informed policies.

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“We’re here to start, hopefully, creating more of the structure in society to have a preventative wellness model,” Winter-Sellery says, “because right now, funding mechanisms in mental health are for illness; they’re not for preventing illness.”

The summit also aims to promote mental fitness—the ability of individuals to play an active role in their own mental health—rather than exclusively dwell on the problem of mental illness.

“We have a lot of behavioral health summits and conferences where the focus is on treatment,” says Sarah Davidon, research director for Mental Health Colorado, a local advocacy organization, “but very rarely do we have large and national events like this….where wellness, mental wellness, is a focus.”

The Centennial State routinely ranks in the bottom half of states in the U.S. for mental health. Mental Health America’s 2019 rankings put Colorado at 29th in the nation for mental health, and according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, Colorado has the nation’s 10th worst suicide rate.

“I want to say that this is where we turned the page,” Winter-Sellery says. “We’ve learned so much. Let’s take the silver lining and let’s use what we’ve learned to….almost vaccinate the rest of the country and the world.”

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If you go: The National Summit for Mental Health and Mental Fitness is open to people of all professional backgrounds, with special rates for educators, healthcare providers, civil and public servants. Register online by July 22.

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