Webinar: Mental Health and Disability

Within the last couple of years, we have collectively faced trauma and experienced COVID-19’s impact on our mental health. A 2021 mental health report found that “seventy-six percent of respondents reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, up from 59% in 2019.” This underscores why it’s crucial to understand the ways in which mental health is part of the larger umbrella of disability and why we must engage in long overdue conversations about caring for our mental health.

How can foundations support the mental health of their employees, recognizing the rights of their employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act? What actions do foundation leaders need to be taking in view of the current mental health crisis engendered by the ongoing pandemic and racial justice issues? And how does meaningfully focusing on mental health lead to greater equity, inclusion, and ultimately, justice?

Dr. Robert Ross, California Endowment President and CEO, moderated this powerful conversation with Stefanie Lyn Kaufman-Mthimkhulu, Founder and Executive Director of Project LETS; Marq Mitchell, CEO and Founder of Chainless Change; and Keris Jän Myrick, Co-Director of S2i, to explore the connections between racial equity, disability rights, and mental health.

About the Panelists

Headshot of Dr. Robert K. Ross

Moderator: Dr. Robert K. Ross, President and CEO of The California Endowment and member of the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy

Robert K. Ross has served as President and Chief Executive Officer of The California Endowment since his appointment in July 2000. During his tenure, the foundation has focused on the health needs of underserved Californians by championing the cause of health coverage for all children, reducing childhood obesity, strengthening the capacity of community health centers, improving health services for farm worker and ex‐offender populations, and strengthening the pipeline for bringing racial and ethnic diversity to the health professions.

Prior to his appointment in July 2000, Dr. Ross served as director of the Health and Human Services Agency for the County of San Diego from 1993 to 2000, and Commissioner of Public Health for the City of Philadelphia from 1990 to 1993.  Dr. Ross has an extensive background in health philanthropy, as a public health executive, and as a clinician. Dr. Ross received his undergraduate, Masters in Public Administration and medical degrees from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Dr. Ross was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar from 1988 to 1990, focusing on urban child health issues.

Headshot of Stefanie Lyn Kaufman-Mthimkhulu

Panelist: Stefanie Lyn Kaufman-Mthimkhulu, Founder and Executive Director, Project LETS

Stefanie Lyn Kaufman-Mthimkhulu (they/she) is a white, queer and non-binary, Disabled, neurodivergent, survivor of sexual violence and the medical/psychiatric system. They show up for their communities as a Disability Justice educator and organizer, parent, somatic and non-clinical healer, writer, Transformative Justice practitioner, and as the Founder and Executive Director of Project LETS (a grantee of the Disability Inclusion Fund). Their work specializes in building non-carceral, peer-led mental health care systems that exist outside of the state— and reimagining everything we’ve come to learn about madness. Stefanie is the editor of Abolition Must Include Psychiatry and the author of We Don’t Need Cops to Become Social Workers.

After graduating as an Engaged Scholar from Brown University with degrees in Medical Anthropology and Contemplative Studies, Stefanie pursued a Fulbright Fellowship in eSwatini, serving as a primary researcher and a community trauma counselor with IMERSE (International Mental Health Resources Services). They were named an honoree of Diversability’s 2020 Disability Impact List, and sit on the board of IDHA.

Headshot of Marq Mitchell

Panelist: Marq Mitchell, Founder and CEO, Chainless Change

Before the age of 22, Marq Mitchell had spent seven years incarcerated in juvenile and adult facilities. As the child of formerly incarcerated parents, he entered the foster care system at an early age. His life’s trajectory was forever impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline, the child welfare system, and ultimately, the criminal legal system. 

Because of his experiences, he developed a breadth of understanding around the challenges that people who are justice-involved face. Post-incarceration, Marq encountered difficulties re-transitioning into society due to stigma, collateral consequences, and a dearth of resources available to returning citizens. Most individuals exiting incarceration struggle to access employment, housing, and education. Although he overcame these barriers and created a second chance at life, he is driven by the reality that, for many, there is simply no ‘second chance.’ This is why Marq created Chainless Change, a community of recovery, advocacy, and support for those involved in the judicial system. 

While Marq studied at two Florida colleges, he believes his most valuable lessons were his personal experiences with being a black man in America and overcoming the barriers associated with his history of behavioral health conditions, incarceration, and poverty.

Headshot of Keris Myrick

Panelist: Keris Jän Myrick, Co-Director, S2i

Keris Jän Myrick is a Co-Director of S2i, Podcast host of Unapologetically Black Unicorns and serves on the Board of the National Association of Peer Specialists (N.A.P.S.). Ms. Myrick has over 15 years of experience in mental health services innovations, transformation, peer workforce development and authored peer reviewed articles and book chapters.

She was formerly the Chief of Peer and Allied Health Professions for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, and has served as the Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs for the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) of the United States Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and was the Board President of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). 

Ms. Myrick is a Certified Personal Medicine Coach, has a M.S. in organizational psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology of Alliant University and MBA from Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management.