Miller-Dwan Foundation launches HopeX mental health initiative
HopeX includes partnerships with Zak Williams, mental health advocate and son of actor Robin Williams, and the World Health Organization.
DULUTH — The Miller-Dwan Foundation announced a new, multi-phase initiative to combat unmet mental health service needs in the Duluth area during an event Thursday night.
HopeX, or Hope Multiplied, will include a workforce expansion and create new programs to fill in the gaps of area mental health services, according to Traci Marciniak, president of the Miller-Dwan Foundation. While the foundation did not release specific details of action HopeX will take, Marciniak and Rick Gertsema, senior mental health adviser, said the program will be innovative and community-oriented.
“We don’t have a lot for prime time right now, but what we have is a set of global partners that will be coming into our community that will be helping us implement something never before seen here,” Marciniak said.
The global partners include the World Health Organization, George Washington University, The New School, and Zak Williams, mental health advocate, entrepreneur and son of actor Robin Williams.
Williams addressed foundation donors and the media at The Garden on Thursday, stating the Miller-Dwan Foundation's plans have him excited for the partnership.
“The more I learned about the Miller-Dwan Foundation, the more I understood that it’s a pioneer in innovating around existing models to establish new ways of reaching communities with care models that actually provide extended support that enables people to feel empowered,” Williams said.
Williams said HopeX will use an evidence-backed approach to establish professional peer support members in the business community. These leaders will be trained to recognize and respond to signs of mental health distress and will ideally be able to engage with people who are struggling before they reach a point of crisis.
“Our systems are being overloaded," Williams said. "There’s simply not enough care providers to support the needs of populations, so we need to figure out and resource new and innovative ways to reach people — ideally upstream — prior to them reaching a crisis.”
Marciniak said the coronavirus pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the already dire mental health crisis. She and the Miller-Dwan Foundation members recognize that while the region is doing its best to help the struggling population, a change in the care model is needed.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen referrals to behavioral health across the lifespan more than double," Marciniak said. "One local provider has a wait list of 1,000 people and it takes four to six weeks to get an appointment with a therapist.”
Gertsema said HopeX will include mental health advocacy to raise awareness through conversation, plus mobilization into the community to work with people in need.
“This is a time for opportunity," Gertsema said. "A time to act, to be stewards of our region’s well-being, to relentlessly pursue solutions to the most challenging health needs facing its people.”
Joan Oswald, major gifts and grants specialists at the Miller-Dwan Foundation, said they're listening for where the community lacks services, and pointed to parent and family therapy services as one example.
"We know there are really great programs out there that work, and we want to capitalize on those projects. We're also researching gaps in care and how we can best serve our community to help eliminate those gaps," Oswald said. "Expansion efforts will be determined based on our findings."
Williams, who will be back in Duluth several times throughout the program's rollout, will help the foundation work on strategy, awareness and messaging. He will be the featured speaker at the Miller-Dwan Foundation's ARTcetera event in September.
Williams is a professional public speaker who has been a featured mental health advocate around the world. He and his wife also created PYM, or Prepare Your Mind, an amino acid supplement that's targeted for mental hygiene.
“Ideally, if I can inspire other people to focus on advocacy and the mission associated with engagement and awareness and stigma reduction, I’ll feel I will have succeeded as an advocate as well,” Williams said. “The power is within anyone to advocate.
"Just because I’ve experienced loss and had to find a path to healing through service, doesn’t mean that other people can’t activate and find their personal path to supporting causes they care about. It doesn't necessarily have to be mental health, but anyone can do this and do it well if they’re passionate and mission-focused," he said.