Imagine a ballroom full of people who champion mental health recovery. They are mental health professionals, advocates, and consumers. They are open about the states of mind and mood they’ve lived with—depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, you name it.

They’re proud of their strength. Proud of their resilience. Proud to be helping others along the recovery path.

Conference-goers in the ballroom of the Benton Convention Center

This was the scene at the fourth annual NC One Community Conference, which took place in Winston-Salem on November 14 and 15.

Detail from a conference tote bag
Conference registration

One hundred and fifty people came from across North Carolina to learn about innovative recovery programs, advocacy efforts, state initiatives, and therapeutic activities. Some took part in evening tai chi and yoga; others joined the AA meeting.

The conference agenda at a glance

In some ways, the conference was one big 12-step meeting. People talked about their addictions, their diagnoses, their struggles and triumphs. They talked about the importance of giving back to others. Encouraging. Pointing out strengths. Modeling responsibility. Most important, believing in a person who has lost every shred of self confidence.

The keynote speakers talked honestly too.

Keynote speaker Harvey Rosenthal

Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, opened the conference. He spoke about his mental breakdown at 19 after joining a commune, and his subsequent struggles with depression.

“I was told, ‘You’ll never recover. You’ll never work,’” he said.

Back then, Harvey noted, the best prognosis for a person with mental illness was symptom maintenance with relapses.

“Now,” he said, “it’s complete recovery.”

The second keynote speaker, Lori Ashcraft, earned multiple graduate degrees and rose steadily in her behavioral health career, moving from social worker to deputy director of community programs for California’s Department of Mental Health. All the while she was privately dealing with severe depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder.

“When you’re struggling and you have to tell lies on top of that, you lose track of yourself pretty fast,” she said.

At the age of the 35, she finally “came out” to her colleagues. That didn’t necessarily make things easier: they began to second-guess her and take care of her. “These are two things that set you back,” Lori noted.

Lori Ashcraft

Nevertheless, she continued to be open about her lived experience, and 14 years ago she dived fully into the recovery field. She is now executive director for the Recovery Innovations Recovery Opportunity Center in Arizona.

“I’m so humbled by the work we all do,” she told the ballroom crowd. “And we’re just starting to figure it out. There’s so much more potential.”

Potential. That’s exactly what the conference represented and its attendees personified.

Recovery Champion award winners (from left) Brian Byerly, R. Nelson Connor, Aaron Wells, and Patricia Tyree

Five years ago there was no such thing as a statewide recovery conference in North Carolina.

Five years from now…just imagine.