Vol. 48, No. 1

In this Edition

Every time there is a mass shooting in America, a predictable political storyline unfolds — Democrats and those on the left say it’s time to pass tougher gun laws, while Republicans and those on the right say it’s time to reform the way we treat the mentally ill.

The Fight to Rebuild Our Broken Mental Health System

Over 2 million Americans with serious mental illness go without treatment each year. This Congressman believes it’s time to help them, and he’s got a plan to do just that.

The Real Mental Health Crisis in America

According to this expert and activist, the problem facing the nation’s mental health system is not one of money. Rather, it’s one of misplaced priorities.

The Wisconsin Example

The Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly discusses how his state is reinvesting in mental health care and a package of reforms that was recently approved.

A Q&A with Gordon Smith

Over a decade after the death of his son, this former Oregon Senator is spearheading a campaign to raise awareness of depression and end the stigma of the disease.

The Invisible Wounds of War

Today, one veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes. A look at the work being done to end this epidemic and care for the combat-related injuries that no one can see.

The Cost of Doing Nothing

After years of deep budget cuts, an examination of why investing in mental health care not only saves money, but saves lives.

A Proactive Step Toward Better Cyber Security

At a time when Congress is seemingly paralyzed by dysfunction, progress is being made to keep America’s cyberspace secure.

In Pursuit of the American Dream

Is it possible to quantify happiness? These two researchers think they have developed a formula that will do just that.

The New Politics of Evasion

A quarter century after Democrats moved to the center to regain relevance, a look back at their move and the lessons fore Republicans todya.

Ripon Profile of Adam Kinzinger

“My focus in Congress is getting the folks of the 16th District back to work, reigning in government spending, and ensuring we pass down to the next generation a country stronger and more free than the one we were given.”

A Q&A with Gordon Smith

“This is an issue that found me – I didn’t find it.”



On the night of September 8, 2003, Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) was getting ready for bed in his suburban Washington home when he heard a knock at his door. It was the police. They were there to inform Smith and his wife that their son Garrett, a 21-year old college student in Utah who had been struggling with depression, had committed suicide.

“Shock and numbness held me for a moment above what looked to be the blackest depths of sorrow and failure,” Smith would later write in his 2006 book, Remembering Garrett. “Joy vanished and years of striving and achieving now appeared as ashes to me. Success in business, service in church, election to the United States Senate – in an instant, it all seemed meaningless, even vain. I had failed to save my own son.” 

For Smith, the day was both a tragedy and turning point – a day when he lost a child and gained a cause. In the years since, he has become one of America’s leading advocates for ending the stigma of mental illness. Through his current position as President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Broadcasters, he is spearheading a campaign to raise awareness of the disease and provide assistance to those who need it the most. 

The campaign is called “OK2TALK.” Since its launch last July, local TV and radio stations across the country have provided over $35.5 million in free airtime for ads and other messages intended to make sure people have a better understanding about mental health and mental illness. 

The Forum recently spoke with Smith about this campaign and his experience as a former legislator and parent who has been personally affected by this disease.


RF: How has America’s mental health care system changed over the past 11 years? 

GS: It has been improving, but it has a long way to go. Progress was made during my time in public service with Senator Wellstone and Senator Domenici. Additionally, I authored a significant piece of the legislation that was passed unanimously by the United States Senate — The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act — that led to additional legislative progress. 

Health insurance policies now provide somewhat greater parity for mental health insurance benefits. And the Veterans Administration, because of our foreign wars, has stepped up its response to mental illness. Additional research dollars and heightened awareness — these things are improving. 

But the safety net of mental health in our country still needs a lot of improvement, as instances like Sandy Hook make clear. We’ve got a long way to go.

The role of Congress is to think differently about mental health. In the past, this issue has been put in the attic.

RF: As a former legislator, what is the role of Congress in improving the mental health care system? 

GS: The role of Congress is to think differently about mental health. In the past, this issue has been put in the attic. But it needs to be given as much attention as issues related to physical health because mental health is really a physical illness of the brain. 

If you don’t have mental health, but seem otherwise physically healthy, you do not in fact have health. The keys are early identification, and making sure treatment is available and affordable. And I think that, in the end, Congress should make sure that as part of the mental health offering, or as part of the health offering to our citizens, mental health occupies an equal place with all other kinds of health care. 

RF: Could you tell us about the mental health awareness campaign you’re spearheading as President of the National Association of Broadcasters? 

GS: This was the outgrowth of the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook. Vice President Biden called all of the entertainment industry in to talk about what we could do in response. 

The National Association of Broadcasters volunteered, with my urging, to produce a public awareness campaign. We did so, raised the money, and produced the “OK2TALK” campaign. 


It has been a spectacular success. The PSAs suggest four things in 30 seconds — that it’s okay to talk about mental health; that help is available and effective; that if you need help, you should get it; and, that if you know someone who is struggling, help them to get help. 

As a result of this campaign, broadcasters have provided over $35 million in free airtime around the country. The response on our Tumblr page has been overwhelming, which makes clear how serious a problem this is in our society. 

RF: Which is more important at this point — education or funding? 

GS: They really can’t be separated. Education is critical, but education takes resources. We have to take the messages of the OK2TALK campaign, and we need to spread them far and wide. 

We need to train health care professionals, educators and parents to recognize the signs of mental illness and do something about it, whether it’s in their families, with their loved ones, or among their neighbors. So I really think it’s a mistake to separate education from funding — they go hand-in-hand. 

RF: Are there any specific changes in current law that you believe should be made to strengthen mental health care? 

GS: All of the laws that Congress has already passed should be fully implemented by the Executive Branch. And however the Affordable Care Act is ultimately resolved, mental health must retain a place equal to physical health in the health care delivery system of our nation — that’s the bottom line.

What I learned after my son’s death is that mental illness touches nearly every person and every family either directly or through associations of relatives and neighbors.

RF: You’ve said that you and your wife now belong to a “fraternity of suffering.” Could you talk for a moment about this “fraternity” and how parents and family members are particularly impacted by this disease? 

GS: What I learned after my son’s death is that mental illness touches nearly every person and every family either directly or through associations of relatives and neighbors. Those who have survived the suicide of a loved one are victims as well. 

What I found when the news of our son’s death began to spread is that people from every imaginable walk of life could relate to it and had some experience with a friend or loved one who suffered from mental illness. The fraternity of suffering – the fraternity of survivors of mental health – is enormous in this country. 

So we all have a stake in making sure that the safety net of our country includes and keeps a prominent place for mental health care. 

RF: Looking back on your son’s struggle with mental illness, and looking at your own efforts to combat the disease now, what do you hope your legacy will be when all is said and done? 

GS: I would hope that people would know that this is an issue that found me — I didn’t find it. But it is an issue on which I’ve labored long and, I hope, well. I also hope I’ve made a positive difference in the lives of those who suffer like my son did. I hope that many lives of our fellow citizens can be saved and made better with the knowledge that mental health cannot only be restored, but that healing is possible. 

I think that one of the things we need to understand in our society is that mental illness is a physical illness. If we regard it as the physical manifestation of an illness of the brain, the stigma could go away. We should have the same empathy for those who suffer mental illness as we do when loved ones suffer other physical illnesses. They really are the same in the end.