Tipper Gore, once named one of the “Ten Most Admired Women in the World,” has brought her warmth, charm and infectious energy to communities and organizations around the globe. She will be presenting a Keynote speech on the topic of “Mental Health and the World We Seek” at this year’s Evolution of Psychotherapy conference. The mental health community continues working to expand our understanding of the brain and to improve both the quality of, and the access to treatment. It is also important to build enduring connections with other communities. The speech will discuss the role of those working with mental health in the critical challenges and opportunities facing our interdependent world. Making mental health a priority not only benefits people with mental illness, but also society at large.
Tipper Gore was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to speak with us about her experiences in the mental health field.
Jeff Zeig: Hello. We’re so glad you accepted our invitation to speak at the upcoming Evolution Conference in December. Could you please tell us about your educational background in psychology?
Tipper Gore: I studied psychology as an undergraduate and graduate student at Boston University and Vanderbilt. This gave me a solid grounding in principles and theory. But to be honest, it has been the people I encountered who were dealing with mental illness who prepared me most to be a mental health advocate. It’s one thing to read about depression or bipolar disorder. However, I have found that through knowing the experiences of others and the struggles they face you gain a deeper understanding of these conditions. That helps us know what we as a society need to do to improve mental health.
JZ: We would be glad to know about your work advocating for the disenfranchised, especially those with mental illness. Also, what are your recommendations to help the disenfranchised, especially those with mental illness?
TG: From parents facing the unimaginable decision to raise a child with severe mental illness, or to give up custody so the government has to provide treatment, to veterans struggling with the mental health effects of combat, to the homeless living with mental illness, I have seen how gaps in our mental health system can push people to the margins. Some can — and do — stand up for themselves and advocate on their own behalf, but they need allies. First, as an ally, it is important for advocates to realize that they are partners with the people living the challenges we seek to overcome. Your role is to help amplify their voices, to build bridges so more people aid their cause, and, if you are in positions of privilege or power, make your seat at the tables of influence useful in advancing their needs.
JZ: What about your efforts on behalf of the LGBTQ community?
TG: From marriage equality to changing social attitudes about sexual orientation, I have been proud to see the LGBTQ community win some tough fights in the United States. And, the same goes internationally where marriage equality is a reality under law in more countries. The struggle for LGBTQ rights is a mainstream part of the struggle for human rights for everyone. Of course, there are many more battles to win and much progress to make. I have been proud to support many LGBTQ civil rights and advocacy organizations, to speak out and raise money when I can, and, perhaps most important, to make equality for the LGBTQ community among the values my family lives by and stands for.
Could you talk about your interest in photography?
TG: My love of photography began in the early 1970’s with the gift of a 35mm Yashica. I’ve been taking photos ever since, both in my professional and personal lives. I was a photographer for the Nashville Tennessean, and free-lanced when I moved to Washington D.C. When I was in the White House, I took my camera with me, photographing events like the meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn. I also photographed our travels around the world, including to post-genocide Rwanda. I’ve found it extremely powerful to share images that put human faces on statistics in order to inspire us to improve both lives and the health of our planet.
I’m not putting the camera down any time soon.
JZ: Most attendees of our conferences are therapists who work in community mental health. Do you have an inspiring message for them?
TG: First, THANK YOU. While much of your work is done in private, working one-on-one in confidential settings with the people you serve, I want you to know that you are not alone, and your hard work is not forgotten. You are making a difference in people’s lives and making our families and communities stronger. I can’t wait to meet you!
JZ: Thank you. And we can’t wait to meet you and hear your keynote speech.