November brings the opportunity to reflect on both service and gratitude, as we celebrate both Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. While so many elements of life are viewed differently in 2020, there are a few constants to be honored, including these very special holidays. Each one is important to Americans, and I have always admired the way these two holidays illuminate the human experience and remind us of the ways in which we bring out the best in each other.
As public servants, we understand what it means to say yes when answering the call to protect, to put others first, and to lead with courage and compassion. The highest form of service belongs to our Veterans, and it is so important to recognize their commitment and sacrifice. DBHDD is extremely proud to note that our very own Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Emile Risby is an active Army Reservist and has served honorably for decades. DBHDD also employs 145 Veterans throughout our state hospital and administrative offices. These are individuals who chose to continue their life of service by joining our mission-driven team that cares so deeply about the vulnerable people we serve and embrace the fight to promote recovery and independence.
While November hosts Veteran’s Day and our country pauses for a national holiday to honor the Veteran experience, we embrace the families of Veterans as well, for they too engage in sacrifice. We also attend to another important reality in our DBHDD work, and that is the behavioral health and wellness of our Veterans as they return to civilian life. We know that Veterans are at high risk for behavioral health issues and suicide. We currently are working in concert with the Georgia Department of Veteran’s Services on Governor Kemp’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their families (SMVF), partnering with Emory University and other stakeholders to adopt a public health approach to suicide prevention. We know that it is vital to follow the evidence about strategies that are effective in preventing suicide.
As the month progresses, the national sentiment transitions toward holidays. Even in this unprecedented year of the pandemic, holiday reminders surround us. For many this brings joy…but we also know this year will be “different”. Perhaps some of our favorite traditions will be constrained or curtailed or even canceled. This is heartbreaking and certainly tests us as we enter the last weeks of a long year. It challenges us to seek connections and opportunities that we might never have experienced.
My hope for November is simply this: that we dig deep to find those opportunities for gratitude in even the smallest of ways. The beautiful fall foliage, the crisp blue skies we have seen, the fearless leaders in our state who continue to guide and coach us through unpredictable times, the healthcare workers, and all of those who serve, and have faithfully served throughout these difficult months.
I am grateful for the staff at DBHDD, especially our hospital staff, and for all of our safety net partners, Community Service Boards, and others, including community-based group homes all around the state who have found ways to serve despite the challenges. I am grateful for the support from Governor Kemp and his team for providing additional staff and rapid tests that enable the safety net to remain open for business. I am grateful for all the colleagues, advocates, and families that have offered grace as we learned along the way how COVID co-existence can work for DBHDD, our providers, and the people we serve. I am grateful that despite the budget challenges of 2020, members of the General Assembly supported vital investments for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and behavioral health challenges.
As I connect these November themes of both gratitude and service, I know this: It is a privilege to serve. I believe that the act of serving others creates energy rather than draining it. I have the good fortune of working with people across many different settings who share this perspective. In this season, and on this day, I recognize the service commitment of those around me. I choose gratitude as a morning ritual and find that it strengthens my resilience on this well-worn path of “one day at a time”.