More than 70 members of the Board of Visitors gathered at McLean on May 7, 2015, for the group’s second annual event. The Board of Visitors, which has grown to include approximately 170 members from 14 states, Canada, and the Dominican Republic, was established to help McLean forge deeper connections with individuals who have an interest in mental health and McLean. Members are asked to learn about McLean’s programs and services and current issues in psychiatry so they can better understand, communicate, and advocate for mental health in their communities.
“The connections we have made with McLean continue to shape our lives every day,” said Tom Shehan. “Serving as ambassadors to McLean is a source of pride for both [my wife] Laura and me, and attending this event is something we look forward to each year.”
Convening the event this year was Dr. Swanee Hunt, former U.S. Ambassador to Austria. Dr. Hunt is president of Hunt Alternatives, whose focus is on bolstering women’s leadership in conflict regions, combating the demand for modern-day slavery in the United States, advocating political parity for U.S. women in highest-level elected positions, supporting leaders of domestic social movements, and disseminating strategies to strengthen youth arts organizations as a vehicle out of poverty.
While she touched on past civic and political roles, Dr. Hunt focused her remarks on mental health. She acknowledged that experience with mental health is what brought many of those in the room together, and she was no exception.
“Mental health has been core in my work and in my life,” she said, going on to share some of the ways mental illness has been woven into the layers of her life: from her stepbrother’s paranoid schizophrenia diagnosis to her developing a halfway house to help those with mental illness avoid hospitalization to her role in the reform of mental health care in Colorado and finally—and perhaps the most personal—to a close family member’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Also highlighted in the program was a presentation by Kevin Hill, MD, MHS, director of the Substance Abuse Consultation Service in the Division of Alcohol, Drugs, and Addiction. Dr. Hill spoke about the gap between science and public perception of marijuana, which is the focus of his work and his recent book, Marijuana: The Unbiased Truth About the World’s Most Popular Weed.
Scientific evidence strongly indicates that smoking marijuana daily or nearly every day can create lifelong health problems, yet there is an increasingly relaxed public view that marijuana is more or less harmless. As a result, public policy is ahead of the science in some areas. According to Dr. Hill, the issue is complex and needs to be addressed in a careful, thoughtful way.
Following Dr. Hill’s talk, McLean President and Psychiatrist in Chief Scott L. Rauch, MD, and Chief Medical Officer Joseph Gold, MD, shared updates on McLean’s recent achievements as well as new programs and services.
The event concluded with roundtable discussions facilitated by McLean clinicians and researchers on a number of topics.
“We are impressed by the strength of interest among the Board of Visitors and welcome the opportunity to host them at McLean in a learning environment,” said Rauch. “Their involvement not only makes McLean stronger, but does so much to advance our shared interest in improving mental health for all.”