Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health

Poetry for Personal Power

Name of Innovative Program: 
Poetry for Personal Power
Sponsoring Organization
Poetry for Personal Power
Name of Innovative Program Lead: 
Corinna West
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Physical Address of Innovative Program: 
4747 Troost, Kansas City, MO 64110
Project Description: 

Poetry for Personal Power teaches communities how to address trauma. This improves access and social outcomes while reducing cost and discrimination. We use a two-stage approach. We teach simple ideas to advocates, artists, and entrepreneurs, then they teach their community. Our sponsored artists are health promoters sharing ideas about resilience and support at poetry slams and hip hop events. These outreach events then build into community coalition partnerships. Our host organizations learn to add peer support programs or lay person mental health interventions in community nonprofits. Our model is simple and easy to expand, so we are already working statewide in Missouri and Kansas to build trauma-informed, accessible, recovery-oriented cities. Our network of arts events, nonprofits, and peer support businesses can spread nationwide because all it takes is smooth coordination of the arts, advocacy, and funding communities.  

How does the innovative program work to improve behavioral health access?: 

The US, in both urban and rural areas, has a shortage of behavioral healthcare resources. This will get worse in a few years as many providers reach retirement age. SAMHSA's 2007 workforce development plan has two top priorities: “increasing community capacity” and “increasing peer support.” We do both. We are using the evidence-based Mental Wellbeing Impact Assessment to add lay person interventions in natural support organizations like churches, gyms, gardening programs, gas stations, or post offices. “People helping people” prevents fear of help-seeking, long waits, and long travel times (sometimes 100+ mile drives in Western Kansas and the Missouri Ozarks). In the urban areas where we work, we are embedding mental health services into existing and trusted African American and Latino-serving nonprofits. “People helping people” makes mental health popular, affordable, and part of natural community processes.

How does the innovative program work to improve behavioral health quality? : 

Poetry for Personal Power increases quality by integrating the best and most current research solving root causes of mental health concerns. We address disclosure concerns, negative social judgments, and job discrimination, the three largest barriers to help-seeking (Psych. Med. 45:11-27, 2014). We are building a culture of health and addressing neighborhood health disparities with our coalition of trusted community nonprofits. Our program's “Mental Health is Simple” capacity building puts into action the wellbeing research in the 2013 UK Creating Resilient Communities report. We integrate suicide prevention recommendations from the seminal 2014 “The Way Forward” report. Lay person interventions have a proven ability to reduce prevalence of suicidal behavior, psychological morbidity, and disability days. (British Journal of Psychiatry, 2011: 9:459-66). We are “patient- centered” with (ex) / patients leading many of our efforts. 

How does the innovative program work to address behavioral health costs? : 

Our system of community and lay interventions can solve mental health concerns before they become “illness.” To put it simply, many mental illnesses are preventable, and we have a plan to count the savings. Helping people avoid psychiatric disability would save an average Medicaid cost of $20,000 per year per person, a total of $307 million dollars annually in the KC Metro area alone. Medicalization of normal emotions costs the US over $35 billion annually (Social Science and Medicine, 2010: 70, 1943). De-medicalizing help-seeking for mental health concerns addresses the two largest causes of stigma (J Psychiatry Neurosci 2015;40(3) and the three biggest barriers to help seeking (Clement et al, Psychological Sciences, 2014). Our program prevents direct costs of traditional interventions, plus indirect costs of psychiatric disability like lost employment, productivity, and victim loss. 

Creativity and Innovation: 

Nothing is more creative than poetry. Our work is scalable and self-supporting. We are using entrepreneurial approaches to popularize 40 years of learning in the mental health civil rights movement. We are using new research on neighborhood determinants of health: art for processing of trauma, violence, poverty, oppression, and other root causes of mental health concerns. We are making mental health simple and actionable by teaching communities and community organizations what they can do to support people. Our tools work long before distress becomes an “illness.” Artists know that changing their stories into artwork moves them from a victim to a hero. Our theme is “overcoming adversity,” which makes distress human and universal. Our message is simple, repeatable, and catchy. Our artists and advocates work in their own communities to build a snowballing capacity and demand for wellness approaches to health care issues.


We use a two-stage approach. We teach simple ideas to advocates, artists, and entrepreneurs, then they teach their community. We have understandable and actionable ways to prevent and treat mental health concerns. Our country has plenty of peer supporters available and plenty of people in need of recovery information, so we are just making the match like Uber matches taxi riders. Our country has plenty of artists available and a high need for health promoters who can entertain, so we are making the match like AirBnB matches hotel stays. Our country has plenty of creative mental health business entrepreneurs, so we are providing a market framework and lowering barriers to entry like Amazon. Our leaders help build other leaders in a way that is simple, repeatable, and spreadable. We bring new voices and new ideas to the recovery movement by helping people create self-led, sustainable careers as social change agents.


Poetry for Personal Power has initial start up funds from SAMHSA, two health care foundations and the state of Kansas. Our statewide network in Kansas and Missouri has letters of support from churches, mental health providers, researchers, and a wide range of partnering advocacy organizations. Our program is sustainable because we are building entrepreneurial approaches in from the beginning. Our job placement service matches highly resilient people with the companies who need them. We are working on the capacity to bill Medicaid and insurance companies for peer support. We are also teaching our community partners to bring in revenue from mental illness prevention. This creates a powerful community demand for more mental illness prevention funding. We are working creatively on both the supply side and the demand side to change the economics of the prevention and peer support industries.


There are poets, recovery movement advocates, wellness organizations, and funders in every small town and city. The information needed to bring them together is easily shared. Information moves quicker than medicine. Poetry for Personal Power is an intentionally designed social change strategy to popularize effective prevention science. We are making great momentum on a stuck issue in Kansas and Missouri. We can prevent mental illness, provide complete recovery transition services, and build a new paradigm of mental health care. Our methods can be easily transferred to other locations by connecting the key players in those cities with the modular advocacy and artist approaches we are creating. Also, by creating a livable wage for (ex) / patient advocates, we can solve some of the stuck issues on cancer, diabetes, or other “medical' fields. 


Poetry for Personal Power is measuring 1) Messaging event participants for Individual resilience knowledge and behaviors via a pre/post survey. 2) Our main activity is organizational capacity-building to increase mental health lay interventions. We check this by the Mental Wellbeing Impact Assessment, the National Council on Behavioral Health Care's Adoption of Trauma-Informed Systems of Care scale, and the Diffusion of innovations scale developed by Pankratz, Hallfors, & Cho (2002). 3) We will also measure how capacity building increases the mental health of community members. These measures can include the Herth Hope Index, WHOQOL-BREF (World Health Organization General Quality of Life, or Wisconsin Quality of Life Assessment, the Sense of Belonging Index, and the Organizational change recipients’ beliefs scale. We will also be calculating the immense costs savings of preventing mental illness.