Domenici Conference always enlightens

Domenici Conference always enlightens

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Domenici Conference always enlightens

Mental health issues receive well-deserved spotlight during event

Liza Long’s young child was having tantrums that lasted for three full hours. Her arms were covered in bite marks and bruises from trying to control him. Her pediatrician in Idaho said, “He’s just a boy. He’ll grow out of it.”

That was one of many misdiagnoses Long received regarding her child for the next decade or more.

Speaking at the New Mexico State University Domenici Public Policy Conference last week, Long then uttered a sentence any parent would find chilling: “He basically didn’t have a childhood.”

As always, the Domenici Conference planners selected a vital, meaningful topic well deserving of review in such a public policy setting.

This was the ninth year of the Domenici Conference, an active outreach arm of the Pete V. Domenici Institute, created in 2008, after he retired from his 36-year career in the U.S. Senate. How fitting this year’s conference dealt with mental health issues, a keystone of Domenici’s advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill.

Because the conference has grown up in Las Cruces, many locals may not realize the national importance of these events. Through the influence of Sen. Domenici and through the quality of programs the NMSU staff continues to present, backed by critical sponsorships, nationally known experts have eagerly agreed to speak. Many have made return engagements.

Previous topics have included water, energy, national security, technology, entrepreneurship, foreign policy, immigration reform and infrastructure. During election years, the agenda includes preview and analysis, bringing such pundits as Karl Rove, James Carville, Donna Brazile and Sam Donaldson to Las Cruces. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel kicked off this year’s conference.

Regardless of the topic, every single session I’ve attended through the years has been useful, informative and educational.

The panelists asking questions of presenters are college students, not just from NMSU, but from around the state. They have prepared and learned each presenter’s subject matter beforehand, assuring we get good, thoughtful questions. It’s also a great way to involve and showcase New Mexico’s amazing collegians.

Conference planners do an outstanding job finding and recruiting presenters who continually amaze. They seem to all have an uncanny ability to present complicated information in a way that’s understandable to academics, students and laypersons. Typically, they make the subject matter not only understandable but interesting, engaging and thought-provoking.

This year’s topic, mental health, is a powerful one. Long, the aforementioned presenter, wrote a book called “The Price of Silence: A Mom’s Perspective on Mental Illness.” Her presentation put a face to the unseen drama millions of parents confront daily. After years of frustration, her son was finally correctly diagnosed and treated and, at 16, he is able to have a life, thriving in an accelerated high school.

By the time her son was 13, however, he had been to juvenile detention four times, because that was the only way for him to receive mental healthcare.

“We have lots of systems in place,” Long said. “But none of them are working.”

Long’s presentation, and those of others, including former Congressman (and son of Ted Kennedy) Patrick J. Kennedy, have helped further this important public discussion.

It is difficult to measure what Sen. Domenici did for the state of New Mexico during his tenure as a legislator. Certainly the work of the Domenici Institute, put into action with the Domenici Conferences, will only build on his important legacy.

RICHARD COLTHARP

From the Publisher

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