Lived Experience, Advocacy, and Diversity (LEAD) Program

The LEAD Program is a statewide three-year project funded by the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC) for Client/Consumer Stakeholder Education, Advocacy and Outreach activities.  It is a program of the California Association of Mental Health Peer Run Organizations (CAMHPRO)

Program Goal and Mission

The LEAD Program’s goal is to generate awareness of the needs of consumers/clients and ensure that they have a major role in the envisioning, development and implementation of local and state mental health policies and programs that will result in accessible, high quality behavioral/community health services and supports.

CAMHPRO’s overarching premise is that access to and quality of behavioral health services are contingent on meaningful consumer involvement in policy and delivery of services. Consumers taking leadership roles in policy and services, as well as providing consumer run programs and working in county behavioral health services, are change agents for California’s behavioral health system.

CAMHPRO uses three basic empowering processes throughout the LEAD Program:

Lived Experience

CAMHPRO includes storytelling, targeted sharing of lived experiences, as an advocacy modality. Stories are one of the most effective ways to impart information and to educate others about issues that matter. Stories are more effective in engaging the senses and “activating” numerous parts of the listener’s brain than statistics or other statements of fact. Consumers’ lived experiences are a motivating factor and catalyst for change. Storytelling increases the sharing of these experiences in a directed and useful way.


CAMHPRO partners with consumer run programs throughout the state, which is in alignment with CAMHPRO’s and MHSOAC’s goal of building local consumer advocacy capacity. By empowering and equipping the leadership of consumer run groups, LEAD will ensure that systems change is driven by consumer priorities and needs. The LEAD Program models “Nothing about us without us.”


The LEAD Program uses a grassroots empowerment model to promote consumer involvement in mental health policy. This model begins with small listening sessions, focusing on demographic and geographic populations in the regions served, in which consumers will gather to explore, discuss, and prioritize the issues they care about. These priorities and potential policy solutions are brought to larger regional LEAD Summits where priorities will be determined through a consensus process and then brought to an annual State Conference and Advocacy Day.

Overview of Activities

LEAD Local events: During the three-year project period, CAMHPRO will hold a total of 15 local community engagement events, called LEAD Summits, throughout California, with one event annually in each of the five regions identified by OAC.  These events will be held in small, medium and large counties, and rural, suburban and urban areas. They will focus on Latinx, African American, East Asian, South Asian, Native Americans, LGBTQ+, young adults and older adults. The areas within each region have been chosen with these demographics and geographic diversity in mind.

For each event, CAMHPRO subcontracts with a local consumer organization to assist in program design, outreach, and engagement, ensuring that consumers are fully involved in the proceedings and conclusions of the Summit.  In order to ensure authentic outreach to communities of color and other marginalized populations, CAMHPRO also subcontracts with REMHDCHO, a statewide organization dedicated to achieving cultural competence in behavioral health through the direct involvement of consumers in service design and delivery.

Listening sessions: With the leadership of the local advocacy group, CAMHPRO holds three to five small group listening session events in each community during which consumers identify priorities for advocacy. These listening sessions target specific geographic and demographic populations in the region.

Policy body presentations: The local advocacy group, local consumers, and CAMHPRO engages in at least two presentations to a policy body (i.e. City Council, Board of Supervisors, legislative hearing, Mental Health Commission) in the area where the Summit will be held with the goal of encouraging policymakers to attend the LEAD Summit, and to publicize the Summit to encourage attendance by consumers. These presentations occur after the small listening sessions so that representatives of the listening sessions can describe their identified priorities.

LEAD Summits:  The LEAD Summits provide forums for developing consumer identified goals – policy changes, program enhancements, and priority issues. They also include keynote and panel presentations, opportunities for consumers to engage directly with policy leaders, workshops for advocacy training, storytelling, evaluation of county services, consumer-run program models, and a resource fair for services and organizations to connect with attendees for employment, job skills training, volunteer opportunities, and services.

Post-Event Activities: CAMHPRO conducts follow-up advocacy trainings in person and/or by webinar, during which consumers will establish an advocacy framework and develop skills to assist them in implementing their identified priorities.

LEAD (State) Speak Out:  CAMHPRO hosts a statewide  annual, two-day conference in Sacramento for each year of the three-year LEAD Program.  The first day of the conference focuses on consumer education, networking, and advocacy skill-building. On the second day of the conference, participants visit legislators to discuss behavioral health policy issues from the consumer perspective.

Track legislation:  CAMHPRO tracks legislation that impacts consumers’ mental health services, including researching, educating legislators, consumers, and the behavioral health community, and advocating when appropriate.

State of the (Consumer) Community Report: The LEAD Program develops a State of the Community Report annually for each year of the three-year program. In addition to multiple research methods, the information gathering aligns with the needs assessment process of the local listening sessions, the LEAD Summits’ consensus developed priority setting, and the State LEAD Speak Out Conference.

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