ST. SIMON’S ISLAND (GA) – Thursday the Commissioner of Georgia’s new Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) became the first commissioner of a state agency to speak at an annual conference of the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network. The conference, one of the largest of its kind in the nation, drew more than 500 participants to St. Simon’s Island, GA, for three days of events focused on peer support and whole health.

"If I have one message for you today, it's that this department is people-focused,” said Commissioner Shelp. “Recovery is not a model or a paradigm: it's nothing other than people being able to direct their own lives and find meaning in them."

Commissioner Shelp praised the organization’s accomplishments, especially its pioneering efforts to establish a statewide certified peer support program in which mental health consumers are trained and paid to help other mental health consumers on their road to recovery.

Shelp emphasized the importance of community support throughout the state and asked that every participant be willing to work toward achieving one common goal – putting consumers first. "We'll be including consumers and their recovery in all our plans. But we'll need your help," he said.

He also recognized the long and unique history of partnership between the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network and the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Addictive Diseases, which, under the former Department of Human Resources, was previously responsible for programs and services to help mental health consumers. He vowed to build on that relationship.

In addition to the conference, David Sofferin, Deputy Commissioner for Mental Health, and Audrey Sumner, Director of Community Mental Health Programs, held a forum Wednesday evening at which approximately 200 mental health consumers were able to share their comments and concerns about Georgia's mental health system.

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