National Recovery Month Planning Partners Honors Cassandra Price, Director of Addictive Services in the state of Georgia, with the Ramstad/Kennedy Award for Outstanding Leadership

Press Release -Washington, DC (May 25, 2017) – The tenth Annual Ramstad/Kennedy Award for outstanding leadership recognizes Cassandra Price, Director of Addictive Services in the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, who is being honored for her leadership in recovery support programs across her state and nationally. The award was established in honor of Congressmen Jim Ramstad and Patrick Kennedy. The two Congressmen have been vocal advocates of recovery support services in all forms, and championed localized efforts to support prevention, treatment and recovery.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration  (SAMHSA) recognizes that long-term recovery is not only possible, but is the goal of addiction and mental illness treatment and support programs. The 2017 honoree has worked to spread this positive message and the message that prevention can be effective in helping to break the cycle of addiction in families.

Cassandra designed the program to support families dealing with addiction and those whose loved ones are in recovery.  She is recognized for her leadership and untiring spirit for the field, the state and most importantly for those whose lives have been touched by substance use disorders. “She has worked to engage state agencies and create change, statewide, that will provide enduring resources for residents and encourage recovery for the future benefit of Georgia families and communities,” said Sis Wenger, National Association of Children of Alcoholics (NACoA), a Recovery Month partner.

“Together in partnership with the dedicated organizations who comprise the Recovery Month Planning Partners, recovery success stories have become commonplace in Georgia, in part because of Cassandra’s on-going and exceptional commitment,” Wenger continued.

“The recipient of the Ramstad/Kennedy award embodies the innovation of a leader dedicated to support prevention, treatment and recovery in their community. On behalf of over 200 collaborating organizations in the Recovery Month Planning Partners, we congratulate Cassandra on her vision and commitment” said Recovery Month partner Marie Gallo Dyak, President of the Entertainment Industries Council, Inc.

Both Retired Minnesota 3rd district representative Jim Ramstad and Retired Rhode Island 1st district representative Patrick J. Kennedy also championed a mental health and addiction parity law in 2008 requiring easily accessible health insurance coverage for mental illness and addiction treatment.  Together the Congressmen have sponsored Recovery Month and other programs to further therapy, treatment and recovery services for these illnesses across the country. The award in their names honors a recipient who has shown upmost commitment in expanding the prospects for recovery of addicted persons and their families and for persons with mental illnesses.

Media Contact:

Sis Wenger @

Marie Gallo Dyak @

Peer-run Respites: Effective Alternatives to Hospitals

Georgia was one of 3 States featured in the SAMHSA sponsored webinar, “Peer-Run Respites: Effective Alternatives to Hospitals”. Jayme Lynch, CPS, Director of the first PSWRC (2008), and Roslind Hayes, CPS, Statewide Coordinator of the PSWRCs presented to over 700 webinar participants about Georgia’s five Peer Support Wellness and Respite Centers (PSWRCs), which are operated by the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network through a contract with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities. Georgia’s PSWRCs offer 24/7 peer support over the phone; Wellness Activities 7 days a week; and up to 7 consecutive nights of respite, an alternative to psychiatric hospitalization, that uses a strengths-based approach to focus on realizing opportunities for recovery.

The PSWRCs are managed and staffed by Certified Peer Specialists who participate in on-going extensive training to insure that the center environments are welcoming, comfortable, trauma-informed, safe, inclusive, nurturing, respectful, and supportive of intentionally mutual relationships between staff and guests that allow individuals to learn new ways of seeing and relating to themselves, others and the world. Participation in center activities is free and strictly voluntary; no professional referrals are accepted. Proactive Conversation establishes peer relationships before a respite stay is needed.

To learn more about Georgia’s PSWRCs go to The archived webinar can be downloaded at

Home Again Targets Kids at Risk for Foster Care

Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (with scissors, from left), state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Tawanda Scales with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, celebrate the opening of Highland Rivers’ Home Again office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.
Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (with scissors, from left), state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Tawanda Scales with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, celebrate the opening of Highland Rivers’ Home Again office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.

Highland Rivers Health and its supporters celebrated Thursday another tool aimed at keeping local children out of the foster care system.
The brainchild of CEO Melanie Dallas, the Home Again program offers customized help for Floyd County kids, ages 8 to 18, and their families with mental health problems.
“In Georgia, as a whole, we don’t do enough to support families in crisis,” she said. “And Floyd is one of the top in the state for the number of foster kids placed outside their home county.”
She came up with a short-term, intensive, program that teaches children and their parents hw to handle the problems — such as depression, drugs, aggression, self-harm and truancy — that threaten to tear them apart.
“We try to get families so they can live in the home together, Home Again,” Dallas said.
There’s one in Gordon County, and the Floyd County office at 1838 Redmond Circle, Suite E, held a ribbon-cutting Thursday. A third is planned for space in Pickens County.
Dallas said the program is funded by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and will soon be a Medicaid-reimbursable service.

Highland Rivers Health therapist Ricardo Bermudez (left) talks with community support staffer Carol Casey during the Thursday opening celebration of their Home Again program office at 1838 Redmond Circle.
Highland Rivers Health therapist Ricardo Bermudez (left) talks with community support staffer Carol Casey during the Thursday opening celebration of their Home Again program office at 1838 Redmond Circle.

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, championed the program by working to ensure start-up funding in the 2016 state budget.
Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (with scissors, from left), state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Tawanda Scales with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, celebrate the opening of Highland Rivers’ Home Again office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.
She said many children who end up in foster care come from families with mental or behavioral problems, including addiction. Home Again targets those issues.

Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (from left), Floyd County Commissioner Larry Maxey, state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Michael Mullet, the organization’ community relations director, celebrate the opening of its Home Again program office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.
Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (from left), Floyd County Commissioner Larry Maxey, state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Michael Mullet, the organization’ community relations director, celebrate the opening of its Home Again program office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.

“It could be for the parents. It could be for the child. But it’s to try to get ahead of the situation,” Dempsey said. “We try to keep the family together because, almost always, the child wants to stay with a parent.”
Ricardo Bermudez the program therapist, is currently working with eight families. He said they could be referred through the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice — or by anyone, including teachers, doctors, pastors, neighbors and the parents themselves.
“These are kids who potentially would be moved out of their homes,” he said. “The goal is to re-establish the unity within the families, to stabilize them.”
The Floyd office can serve up to 10 families, Dallas said, but she’s advertising for another licensed therapist and will then be able to double the number.
For information about the program, visit the website, email or call 706-784-4175, extension 4702.

Diane Wagner May 19, 2017

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Tony Sanchez’s RESPECT Institute Experience

In December, 2016, Tony Sanchez, Director of Recovery Transformation Services at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities participated in a RESPECT Institute of Georgia training that was hosted at the Sparrow’s Nest in Athens. Below, Tony shares his thoughts about his experience.

For several years, I have heard from many Peers that the RI training was a trans-formative experience. In December, 2016, I had the opportunity to participate in a RI and I can affirm that it is trans-formative – and healing.

I confess that I felt vulnerable when I started sharing my story with the other participants. I wasn’t planning on it, but I found myself sharing
experiences and feelings that I had never shared with anyone before. I actually think everyone felt vulnerable, but there was so much encouragement and compassion, that everyone took a chance. Everyone took a chance to be open and authentic and though it felt raw emotionally, it was also very liberating and healing.

Having been a veteran of the 12-step program, I assumed that the RI training would come easy to me. But I realized that the expectations of the RI require a different approach. For example, the exercise of having to write out my story and condense 40 years of my life into a 10-minute presentation demanded that I prioritize my lived experiences and at the same time deliver an educational and poignant message. This was not an easy task, but as I continued to edit my presentation, I realized how far I had come in my recovery. I realized that my resilience and recovery eclipse all of the pains and struggles of my life.

What I will treasure the most from my RI experience is the feedback sessions. After a participant shares their story, everyone is so encouraging and empathetic and compassionate that these sessions felt sacred. And when you consider that these stories have been held inside for so long due to shame and stigma, these sessions truly are sacred.

In my position at [DBHDD], I have had many opportunities to hear RI Graduates begin an important meeting by sharing their stories. Now that I have participated in a RI, I want to impress upon everyone that behind every 10-minute inspirational presentation, there is an enormous amount of effort. The RI is designed with great precision, but to get the optimal benefits, a participant goes through three days of intense, emotional and sometimes exhausting processes as they make peace with their past and learn to tell their story. And telling their stories is precisely what the RESPECT Institute Graduates do – every day. To date, RESPECT Institute Graduates have presented their recovery stories to over 100,000 Georgia stakeholders.

From The RESPECT Institute of Georgia Team
We encourage all Graduates to go into their community and tell their story!
Jen Banathy
RESPECT Institute of Georgia Organizational Development Coordinator
Denise Hardy
RESPECT Institute of Georgia Training Coordinator
Shelia Corn
RESPECT Institute of Georgia
Outreach Coordinator
Lindsey Sizemore
RESPECT Institute of Georgia
Outreach Coordinator

Tony Sanchez’s RESPECT Institute Experience

Working on the road to recovery


In the past, people living with mental health challenges were often encouraged not to work. But on the road to recovery, finding purpose through meaningful activities, such as employment, can be helpful.

At East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta, the work therapy program aims to empower people with skills learned on the job. The program is guided by several principles and practices, including supported employment that helps people with severe mental illness work at regular jobs of their choosing.

“Through the work therapy program, consumers can become contributors, and people who are isolated can become engaged,” said Work Therapy Coordinator Tiffany Snow.


The scope of work ranges from individual experiences to group experiences that includes hobbies and career exploration to campus job sites. At both the Augusta and Gracewood campuses, individuals have the opportunity to work at the treatment mall, in the central kitchen, with the yard crew, in the library, and in the apparel shop, among other job sites. More than 50 individuals have paid employment, more than 20 individuals are in training and groups, and three individuals are in transitional employment.

Recovery-oriented cognitive therapy (CT-R) also is an important component of the work therapy program. DBHDD staff were trained by the Beck Initiative in 2014 through a series of workshops and weekly consultations.  The work therapy program now utilizes CT-R to help people who may continue to experience symptoms or challenges.


The program continues to expand by strengthening connections with vocational rehabilitation and supported employment providers, and by developing off-campus work and volunteer opportunities.

Forensic Peer Mentor Program Expands to Help More Georgia Returning Citizens

Cohort 3 convened at GDC’s State Offices South at Tift College in Forsyth, GA for the 40 hour Forensic Peer Mentor Training, facilitated by Jill Mays (DBHDD; 1st row, 3rd from the left), Jonathan “DJ” Rees (The Main Link, Pennsylvania; 1st row, 2nd from right), and Sharon Williams (GMHCN; 2nd row, far right).

In 2014, Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), Department of Corrections (GDC), and the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN) embarked on a partnership to offer innovative peer support to Georgia’s returning citizens through the Forensic Peer Mentor Program. In 2015, the partnership expanded to include the newly formed Department of Community Supervision (DCS). Plans are underway for the program to expand into additional facilities in January 2017.

On November 28, 2016, the third cohort of 15 certified peer specialists (CPS) and certified addiction recovery empowerment specialists (CARES) began the weeklong training designed to help them use their own experience in the criminal justice system and their recovery from a behavioral health disorder to help the people that they will support.  As forensic peer mentors, they will help individuals leaving correctional facilities with transition/release planning; obtaining stable housing; employment; disability benefits; transportation coordination; linkage to community behavioral  health services and recovery supports; and learning new skills.

The training was facilitated by Jonathan “DJ” Rees, a subject matter expert on the forensic peer movement, as well as the Sequential Intercept Model, an emerging best practice that assists communities in identifying points of interception along the criminal justice system continuum where stakeholders can intervene to prevent individuals with mental illness from going to jail/prison due to offenses that may be related to their symptoms.

According to Rees, “when returning citizens are released from jail, they face challenges like discrimination in being hired for a job and finding housing in the community.  Despite these challenges, peer support can reduce the recidivism rate of people returning to jail.”

Upcoming program expansion will include placement of forensic peer mentors at four GDC state prison sites, two DCS day reporting centers, one mental health court, and one DBHDD regional hospital. This expansion brings the total number of the forensically trained CPS and CARES workforce across the state to 37, and increases the number of worksites from 11 to 17.

“Since enrolling our first returning citizen in April of 2015 into the Forensic Peer Mentor program, the program has really taken off,” said Jill Mays, assistant director of DBHDD’s Office of Adult Mental Health and coordinator of the Forensic Peer Mentor Program.  “Data shows that we have been able to greatly increase successful re-entry and reduce the recidivism rate for individuals with mental illness and/or co-occurring substance use disorders who are being released from prison or on probation/parole.  Our belief is that with support from the forensic peer mentors and other appropriate community resources, all returning citizens have the capacity to live and thrive in the community.”

Assertive Community Treatment Improves Outcomes for Individuals with SPMI

A recent DBHDD study found that individuals who participate in assertive community treatment (ACT) experience a significant decrease in both hospital readmission and length of inpatient stay as a result of ACT participation. ACT is a community-based alternative to hospitalization for people who have a severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI) which has interrupted their ability to live in the community successfully. It is often referred to as a “hospital without walls” because it provides a full range of treatment and supports that enable individuals with SPMI to live in the community.

Data collected by the department over a 6-month period showed a 56 percent decrease in the number of days of hospital admission and a 69 percent decrease in the number of individuals receiving inpatient services. The sample included 264 individuals enrolled in ACT services.

The study was conducted to determine the short-term effectiveness of the ACT teams in reducing psychiatric hospitalization. Researchers compared the frequency of hospitalizations prior to and during enrollment, and after discharge. Future research will investigate longer-term outcomes of ACT services, as well as other services in the DBHDD continuum of care.

The 22 ACT teams included in this study serve more than 1,400 people in Georgia by providing a full range of treatment and supports to enable individuals with SPMI to live in the community. Services include counseling, medication, case management and peer support. The goal of ACT is to reduce hospitalization, incarceration and homelessness, and to promote community integration. Georgia’s 22 state-funded ACT teams receive oversight, guidance, technical assistance and fidelity monitoring from DBHDD’s Office of Adult Mental Health.

System of Care Academy focuses on children’s behavioral health care

IMG_1285-croppedDBHDD hosted the 8th annual System of Care Conference at the Atlanta Evergreen Marriott in Stone Mountain. More than 500 providers, agency partners, advocates, youth and families attended the three-day event, which featured expert speakers, panels and workshops on children’s behavioral health care.

System of Care is a nationally recognized model designed to improve treatment and support for children and youth who have a serious emotional disturbance. The System of Care concept puts children and their families at the center of their treatment planning.

“Georgia’s System of Care is about embracing children and families,” said DBHDD Commissioner Frank Berry, who delivered Wednesday’s opening remarks. “We’re all working together to coordinate efforts to improve the care we deliver.”

The System of Care model emphasizes coordination between agencies and providers that serve Georgia’s children and the families and children they serve. This allows everyone in a child’s support system to focus on what is best for that child, and to minimize disruptions in his or her life.

“We provide better care to children and families when agencies and providers collaborate,” said Matt Yancey, who leads DBHDD’s Office of Children, Young Adults and Families. “Our job at the academy is to answer the question, ‘how can we serve Georgia’s children and families better?’”

Participants in Georgia’s System of Care work together to serve children in their own communities, aiming to reduce the need for out-of-home care in psychiatric residential treatment facilities, foster homes, or under supervision of the Department of Juvenile Justice. To learn more about DBHDD services for children and families, visit our website.

DBHDD focuses on youth during May’s Mental Health Month

Earlier this month, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day with more than 200 supporters at the state Capitol. The event, which featured a panel on school-based mental health services, represents just one of the many ways that DBHDD promotes children’s mental health and the importance of early treatment for youth with serious emotional disturbances.

DBHDD’s Office of Children, Young Adults and Families provides assessment, counseling, therapy, crisis intervention, peer support, clubhouses and other services for youth and their families. Services are targeted toward children and adolescents (ages 4-17), and transition-aged youth and young adults (18-26) who often fall into a gap between child and adult mental health services.

A 2009 report by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine estimated that 13-20 percent of children living in the United States experience a mental health challenge in a given year, and that youth behavioral health disorders cost an estimated $247 billion annually. This figure includes costs associated with mental health treatment, lost productivity and criminal activity.

DBHDD is improving children’s mental health care through several initiatives.

Georgia System of Care
DBHDD’s Offices of Children, Young Adults and Families and Federal Grant Programs and Special Initiatives are working with partners across Georgia to build a strong system of care for children’s mental health services. The system of care primarily serves people from birth to age 21 who experience a diagnosable emotional, socio-emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder that impairs their functioning in family, school or community settings.

The Georgia System of Care seeks to change the way children’s mental health services are delivered by bringing together Georgia’s child-serving agencies and organizations to provide integrated care that is comprehensive and effective. The system is recovery-focused and takes a family-driven, youth-guided approach to service delivery. System of care focuses on workforce development, system-level planning, social marketing and support for youth and young adults. Clubhouses serve people with co-occurring mental health and substance use challenges.

The 2015 Georgia System of Care Academy will take place on July 14-16 at the Atlanta Evergreen Marriott in Stone Mountain. We will share more information about the academy in upcoming DBHDD newsletters.

Listening, Inspiring and Guiding Health Transitions (LIGHT) Initiative
The LIGHT Initiative focuses on the young adult population and includes development of policy and practice improvements, as well as treatment for first-episode psychosis. The program will offer specialized training and a provider toolkit to DBHDD providers.The initiative is supported by DBHDD’s Offices of Children, Young Adults and Families and Federal Grant Programs and Special Initiatives.

Georgia Apex Project
The first signs of mental or emotional distress often appear when a child is at school. The Georgia Apex Project, supported by the Office of Children, Young Adults and Families, aims to reduce the number of youth with unmet mental health needs which often contribute to poor academic performance. The project supports school-based mental health programs, including early detection of mental health needs, and establishes better coordination between school districts and the state’s community service boards. The Georgia Center of Excellence in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health will provide ongoing technical assistance and support to Georgia Apex Project grantees.

Youth Mental Health Clubhouse
DBHDD also supports youth mental health clubhouses for children and families. Clubhouses offer a positive and healthy environment for youth struggling with mental health challenges or difficult family situations. Clubhouse staff help with homework, job placement, peer support, family engagement and social activities to engage youth and help them manage their symptoms. There are currently six youth clubhouses in Georgia and plans to create five more in 2015.Read about youth clubhouses on the DBHDD blog.

For more information, visit the Office of Children, Young Adults and Families on DBHDD’s website.

Recovery symposium highlights area resources in southwest Georgia

DBHDD, along with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, and the Albany and Moultrie chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, co-sponsored Transforming 2 Wellness, a regional symposium held in Norman Park on April 29. The program highlighted area resources that help people achieve and sustain long-term recovery from mental health challenges and substance use disorders.

Speakers included individuals from Lee and Terrell counties, as well as other surrounding communities. Materials from exhibitors demonstrated the range of resources for mental health and addiction in southwest Georgia.

“We need to be very aware of what the local efforts are, what the local needs are, what the local gifts and the local talents are and that’s what we really trying to do here,” said Mark Baker, director of DBHDD’s Office of Recovery Transformation, which funds effort to raise recovery projects around the state.

See more photos from the symposium on the DBHDD Fackbook page.