100 Conversations about Mental Health #OnTheTable 2015 #EndStigma
March 26, 2015

The Kennedy Forum Illinois is working to end the stigma against mental health and substance use disorders. We are bringing people together to tackle and solve the most pressing challenges in mental health and addiction.

Mental illness and stigma affects all of us. One of the most heartbreaking conversations I had with my late son P.J., diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, was when he told me he’d rather die an alcoholic than a mental patient. The stigma against individuals with mental health and addiction challenges is alive. It is killing people and we need to fight back.

Research shows that the best way to fight stigma is contact. When individuals suffering in silence, families, co-workers and community members have meaningful interactions with people thriving in recovery, it changes perspective. Honest conversations among colleagues and friends can create a culture of understanding, breaking down barriers to care and support. Discussions across stakeholders can help identify pathways to solutions and create new partnerships to drive progress.

We need to talk about mental health – not just to each other, but with each other. Conversation is a critical part of the solution.

Toward this end, The Kennedy Forum Illinois is participating in the Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table project, an initiative to engage tens of thousands of people in mealtime conversations with a purpose. Last May, more than 11,000 people participated in the On the Table conversations – generating new ideas, new partnerships and new solutions. The On the Table initiative is a valuable opportunity for us to gather in safe spaces with families, colleagues, friends and community members to talk about issues of importance and identify opportunities to make a positive difference. At The Kennedy Forum, we believe this is a perfect platform to support and encourage more dialogue – and more solutions – on issues related to mental health.

In honor of the Trust’s Centennial anniversary this May, The Kennedy Forum has set a goal of hosting 100 conversations about mental health and addiction during this year’s On the Table. We invite you to join us in reaching this goal by being a host of one or more conversations on May 12th. 


Peter O’Brien, Chair, Kennedy Forum Illinois

How to register as a host: You can REGISTER HERE with The Chicago Community Trust to be a host of an On the Table conversation. As you are guided through the registration process, you will be prompted to enter some basic information and to create a customized home page for your event. When registering, please enter the “outreach code” for The Kennedy Forum in the outreach code box: Kennedy Forum – 003.

Basic information for hosts:

  • You determine a location to meet on May 12, 2015 for a mealtime conversation. You can have your breakfast, lunch or dinner wherever you want (e.g. home, workplace, restaurant, church), serve whatever you like, or have everyone bring something or chip in.
  • You decide who you would like to invite. Friends and family? Neighbors? Colleagues? We recommend 10-12 guests at each gathering. If you would like to invite public community members to participate in your gathering, you can indicate your event is open to guests and how many.
  • You determine the theme of your conversation. Click here for a downloadable discussion guide and general mental health conversation themes and resources. For example, some possible topics might include: how do I/we experience mental health stigma and how can I/we address it? what can my school do better to detect, address and support students with mental health challenges? what can our company/workplace do to build a culture that supports those with mental health and addiction disorders? what is the new mental health parity law and how can we educate ourselves and others about their rights under the law?
  • If you represent an organization, employer or other large group, you can help The Kennedy Forum elevate the dialogue by sharing this information and encouraging your organization to host multiple conversations. Set a goal for your group, 5 conversations? 10? Let us know how we can help you achieve it.
  • Need more information? Click here and send us your questions. We’ll follow up with you via email or by phone to help answer any questions and assist you with planning.

If you would like to participate in a conversation about mental health/addiction but not as a host, let us know at kelly@thekennedyforumillinois.org We will work to connect you to host conversations that invite public guests.

All of us can help address stigma around mental health and addiction. Talking openly about mental illness signals to others that they’re not alone, and it also opens up a dialogue about how we can better treat people with mental illness in the future. For more tips about how to open a dialogue with those you love, and those around you visit: http://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/

Download a package of host resources below, which includes: 

  • A backgrounder to help with invitations and conversation context
  • FAQs on the 100 Conversations initiative
  • A template letter for guest invitations
  • A 2-page infographic summary of the recent Illinois statewide poll results on mental health
  • Community conversation guides on mental health by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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