Thursday, June 30, 2011

Medicaid and the Threat to our Nation’s Health

By Michael Fitzpatrick, NAMI Executive Director

If you follow the news, you are well aware that policy makers in Washington are currently meeting, discussing and debating measures to control spending and address the federal budget deficit.

The debate right now is taking place in the context of Congress needing to raise the national debt limit by August 2—or otherwise default on loans, which would impact the world economy.

What you may not realize is that the intense debate includes proposals that would result in huge cuts to Medicaid, The proposals would greatly threaten the already fragile mental health care system for people living with mental illness.

These decisions are being made now as fierce negotiations take place. Waiting until August for the outcome will be too late.

Consider the scope:

  • 2.5 million youth and adults with serious mental illness on Medicaid are eligible on the basis of mental illness.
  • 7.5 million Americans receive life saving mental health services through Medicaid in a given year.
  • Medicaid is one of the largest funders of mental health services, paying for over 50 percent of all publicly funded treatment and services for people living with mental illness.

The key proposal being debated today—which the U.S. House of Representatives has already passed—would “cap” the amount of federal funding each state receives to cover these services, regardless of need. This proposal to “block grant” Medicaid will “save” the federal government money, but risks and costs will only be shifted to the states and, consequently, to our local communities.

The lives of millions are at stake.

The result of Congressional discussions determine the outcome for Medicaid and, thus, will have a tremendous impact on our already fragile mental health care system. Millions of Americans with mental illness are at risk of losing vital safety net services, basic health care, access to life saving medications and more.

For those of us who advocate tirelessly for people with mental illness, now is the time to contact our U.S. Senators and Representatives.

Our message: Medicaid must be protected for vulnerable youth and adults living with serious mental illness.

Oppose converting Medicaid into a block grant, do not place caps on Medicaid funding for people with mental illness and ensure access to lifesaving care.

Tough times require smart decisions. We must take action to protect our nation’s health.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Spread Mental Health Awareness to All during July in Honor of a NAMI Heroine

By Marin Swesey, NAMI Multicultural Action Center manager

One of my first experiences with NAMI was at a welcome reception for a special mental health disparities track at the 2006 NAMI annual convention. Though the room was packed with many new faces, my attention was drawn to a group of enthusiastic self-proclaimed "NAMI mommies," the founding members of then newly formed NAMI Affiliate, NAMI Urban Los Angeles. One of them was soon to be honored for that spirit forever in the hearts of mental health advocates.

Bebe Moore Campbell was an accomplished author, advocate, co-founder of NAMI Urban Los Angeles and national spokesperson. Through her work, she broke barriers of stigma and advocated the importance of bringing mental health education to underserved, diverse communities. In November 2006, Campbell lost her battle with brain cancer. Two years later, friends advocated on her behalf to make a dream reality: the U.S. House of Representatives proclaimed July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, a month of national recognition of her ideals:

  • improved access to mental health treatment and services and public awareness of mental illness are of paramount importance; and
  • enhanced public awareness of mental illness and mental illness among minorities.

I am proud to be a part of NAMI's strong support of this special month and see so many NAMI leaders across the country embrace the opportunities it brings by raising awareness, building community partnerships and celebrating diversity in the mental health community. Since 2008, the NAMI annual convention has served as a platform to kick off the celebration with a town hall networking event-and will do so again this year in Chicago. NAMI State Organizations and NAMI Affiliates have hosted a variety of events including seminars, block parties, brunches and vigils.

Beyond NAMI, some other major organizations and agencies have taken notice and taken part: in July 2010 the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) launched a national public service announcement campaign to promote mental health recovery among diverse communities in partnership with the Ad Council; and the National Network to Eliminate Disparities hosted a two-part "Celebrating Mental Health in Diverse Communities" webinar forum.

Join me next month in celebrating National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month 2011. Find out what is happening in your community or plan your own events for July. You can find background information, resources and activity highlights on the NAMI website.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Study on Family-to-Family: It’s All about People

By Michael Fitzpatrick, NAMI Executive Director

NAMI has long been proud of its Family-to-Family program, our free, 12-week self-help course in which trained volunteers who have family members living with mental illness teach coping skills to others. We now have a new reason to be proud.

A landmark study published in the current issue of Psychiatric Services, a journal of the American Psychiatric Association, has found that the program “significantly” improves coping and problem-solving abilities of family members. It offers “concrete practical benefits” and serves as a valuable “complement” to professional care.

Doctors and other mental health care workers are often unable to provide enough support to family members, even though families often play a critical role in treatment and recovery.

This recognition coincides with the 20th anniversary of Family-to-Family. To date, an estimated 250,000 people have taken the classes. Over 3,500 volunteers now teach the course.

NAMI is grateful to all the volunteers who are the heart and soul of the program. We can’t name them all here, but their work is often recognized both nationally and locally.

Last year WYFF-TV (Channel 4) in Greenville, S.C., reported: "When local families can't get the help they need, many turn to NAMI.”

Next week, KMGH-TV (Channel 7) in Denver will honor Pam Haynes, a NAMI Family-to-Family coordinator and instructor, as one of its weekly “Everyday Heroes.” Another Family-to Family instructor was the late Bebe Moore Campbell in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s greatest African American novelists. In 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives named July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in her honor.

Even more gratifying are letters NAMI receives from people who have taken our classes.

When actress Glenn Close launched the Bring Change 2 Mind campaign, her sister Jesse, who lives with bipolar disorder and has a son with schizophrenia, wrote: “NAMI helped us as a family.” This year, Jessie will address NAMI's annual convention in Chicago, July 6-9, where the new study will also be presented. Finally, one Florida mother wrote this week: “When I began the Family-to-Family program, I was still shell-shocked…Mental illness was an unknown, unthinkable and unwanted commodity for our family.”

She wanted her son back.

“What I got instead,” she wrote “can best be told in my son’s words from a letter slid under my bedroom door.”

“Mom, since you graduated from the NAMI program, I’m a lot happier because you’re happier…I’ve always known you loved me ‘just the way’ I am,’ as you always say, but now I think I can love me just the way I am.”

Thank you to all NAMI volunteers working in all our programs who help make NAMI great.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Top 10 Movies about Mental Illness

By Brendan McLean, Communications Coordinator

There will always be disagreements and discrepancies among Top 10 lists, no matter what the topic. Everybody has an opinion. When we asked our NAMI Facebook page fans what movies made the biggest impact on them when it came to films that put mental illness in the spotlight, we received a wide array of answers. Take a look:

10. Canvas (2006)

Canvas is one of only a few movies able to encapsulate the emotional trials that a family living with mental illness faces. Chris Marino (Devon Gearhart) is a 10-year-old boy growing up in a small, seaside community in Florida. Chris's father John (Joe Pantoliano) is a construction worker who is struggling to hold the family together under difficult circumstances: his wife and Chris' mother, Mary (Marcia Gay Harden), has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and while they've been pursuing a variety of treatment options, Mary's condition continues to slowly deteriorate as she hears phantom sounds, has hallucinations and becomes increasingly paranoid.

9. Shutter Island (2010)

The year is 1954 and World War II veteran and current federal marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) set off to Shutter Island, a water-bound mental hospital created to provide a place for those with a history of committing criminal acts and mental illness. Daniels and his partner have been asked to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients. However, as Teddy spends more time on the island, more questions arise than answers. As the happenings on the island become more bizarre, Daniel’s handle on reality begins to unravel. While the ending does appear to blinside you on first viewing, it allows for an interesting discussion on the treatment of mental illness.

8. Benny & Joon (1993)

Benny & Joon is a rather fantastical story about car-mechanic Benny (Aidan Quinn) who struggles to take care of sister, Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson), who lives with mental illness. Midway through the film, we are introduced to the true star, and leading quirky character of the film, Sam (Johnny Depp). After losing a bet, Benny is forced to now house Sam along with his sister. Sam’s Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin routines keep him as far from reality as Joon often appears to be. Finding entertainment and enjoyment in the simple, yet oddball things in life, Sam develops a connection with Joon. While Depp’s performance does seem magical, especially as he brings Keaton’s mannerisms to life, the topic of Joon’s mental illness is not thoroughly discussed. The audience is merely greeted with and left with the notion that Joon lives with a mental illness. As a consequence, the movie is left with a feeling of a degree of insignificance. But regardless, Sam’s eccentric nature and the influence he has on Joon make this movie an incredibly fun watch, with a few sentimental moments as well.

7. The Hours (2002)

Depicting the story of three women in three separate generations, The Hours tells the struggles that each faces in their own time. The first of the three women is famous author Virginia Wolff (Nicole Kiddman) who wrote Mrs. Dalloway, the common thread that ties all three women together. Wolff is in the process of writing the novel; a troubled young mother (Julianne Moore) in 1951 is reading the novel and a woman (Meryl Streep) in 2001 is acting like the character Mrs. Dalloway from the book. The theme of mental illness is paramount throughout the film, as each of the three women is, to some degree, living with depression and thoughts of suicide. The remarkable acting, especially by Kiddman, helps give life to every single moment and make the powerful themes reverberate even more.

6. The Soloist (2009)

Depicting the true-life story of Nathanial Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a former cello virtuoso, and Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), a journalist in Los Angeles, The Soloist portrays the working relationship and friendship formed between the two. As a young man, Ayers was a student at the prestigious Jullliard. But in his third year he experienced a mental breakdown and was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia. After living with his sister for a few years in Cleveland, his mother died, and he set out to Los Angeles where his father supposedly lived. Unable to locate him, Ayers becomes homeless. This is where Lopez meets him. Unable to understand how such a brilliant musician can be living on the streets and not performing in a symphony hall, Lopez sets out on a mission to help Ayers. And as with all similar movies, as Lopez begins to learn about Ayers, he begins to discover himself as well. The Soloist touches on the tough but important subject of how many living with mental illness can become homeless when they do not continue to receive help.

5. Girl, Interrupted (1999)

Set in 1967, Girl, Interrupted follows the 18-year-old Susanna (Winona Ryder) after she is sent to psychiatric institution for a half-serious suicide attempt where she attempts to cure a headache by taking 50 aspirin with a bottle of vodka. Unlike many of her fellow classmates, Susanna does not have any future plans to go to college after she graduates high school. Apart from a contrived climax, the film largely is well-constructed and thought-out, although it does not have the metaphorical or powerful symbolism that a film like this, could and should have. Ryder’s performance as a neurotic young-female is what helps this film from stereotypical movie that delves into the topic of institutionalization in a mental hospital. However, while Girl, Interrupted does a good job portraying the topic of mental illness, there is nothing particularly novel or ground-breaking in the film’s execution that hasn’t been addressed in previous films.

4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest may be the most famous of all films depicting a mental institution and mental illness. R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is sent to a mental institution for an evaluation because of a crime he committed. Realizing that the individuals in the institution become more focused on becoming functional in the outside world, MucMurphy establishes himself as the leader in rebellious against the oppressive Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). While some view some of the actions and depictions of the characters as stigmatizing, for others Cuckoo’s Nest ultimately provides well-developed character descriptions that allows for them to be seen as any person, with or without mental illness; people with feelings, thoughts, goals and unique qualities. Furthermore, the portrayal of the institution may not be a positive example of how those living with mental illness should be cared for, many believe it does advocate that it should be the way. Based on a book of the same name by Ken Kesey from 1962, Cuckoo’s Nest describes an institution as many appeared in that era. The ending of the film, both metaphorically and literally ultimately reveals the devastation that this method of care for those living with mental illness has.

3. Ordinary People (1980)

Ordinary People tells the story of family whose underlying problems and struggles come to forefront in the aftermath of the death of one of their sons. Their other son who was present at the scene of his brother’s death cannot shake the grief and pain of situation and attempts suicide. As their son begins psychiatric treatment, the emotional journey in the family only begins. Each family member experiencing various aspects of the difficult nature of trying to care for someone you love with mental illness. In particular, Conrad (Timonthy Hutton), the son, is seen as an outcast at school because of his mental illness and suicide attempt. The struggle between the father (Donald Sutherland) and his wife (Mary Tyler Moore) and the ability to each family member to love one another creates a turbulent scene in the all too stereotypically matter-of-fact and easy suburban life.

2. The Fisher King (1991)

Perhaps the most individual film on the list The Fisher King tells the story of shock radio DJ Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges). One fan in particular takes Jack’s rants about humanity to heart and goes on horrible rampage, murdering innocent patrons at a restaurant. Horrified by what he caused, Jack sinks into a three-year depression. Hitting rock bottom, Jack attempts to commit suicide. To his rescue comes a crazed but witty homeless man named Parry (Robin Williams), who tells Jack he's destined for great things—all he has to do is find the Holy Grail (conveniently located in midtown Manhattan) and save Parry's soul. As the story unfolds, we learn that Parry is suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses, and importantly the event that helped caused them, that will tie him and Jack together.

1. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Telling the story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. (Russell Crowe), a brilliant mathematician, A Beautiful Mind, captures the difficult life that an individual first experiencing schizophrenia faces. Beginning in the 1950s, A Beautiful Mind follows the path of Nash from a promising career, being recruited by the CIA to help in code-breaking activities, to the powerful delusions that he begins to experience and change his life forever. Although the film does romanticize mental illness, it does reveal the ambiguous nature of mental illness; it can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, prominence or any other personal trait.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Standing Up for Mental Illness

By Suzie Cooney

A healthy mind and a healthy body go hand in hand—you cannot have one, without the other. As part of my work today I continue to stress the importance of staying active, as it helps lead to improved mental health.

From childhood, mental illness has had a profound impact on my life. My mother, and three more of her six siblings, lived with mental illness. My mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and severe depression when I was a young child. Since I can remember I was a caregiver and lived in a house that was full of pain and constant upheaval. My grandmother did what she could, but years ago there was confusion about what mental illness was and not much support.

As an only child it was overwhelming. I was fragile. I had no person, or no organization, to turn to for help or support. In an attempt to escape I moved out when I was 15 years old. Ever since then I have experienced feelings of guilt for leaving my family in a time of crisis.

Realizing I had made a mistake I returned to help. A saying of my aunt and uncle helped me stay strong and forge ahead in tough times. “The well must stay well,” they said. I did what I could to maintain by own mental and physical health to provide the best help I could for my mother.

But times were still difficult. What my mother had to experience was agonizing both for her and for me. All the doctors did was lock her up, drug her up and then put her back into society with no coping skills. Consequently, the situation repeated itself, over and over, as we moved my mother from one apartment to the next.

Finally in 1997, I moved her overnight to an amazing community of progressive care in Contra Costa County, California. For a year, my mother was furious with me for taking action this way, but eventually she realized it was the best thing to have happened. Today she is able to live independently with only weekly visits from her amazing case manager and her physician, Dr. Ziba Rahimzadeh, who has been with her for over 12 years.

Growing up in California, the ocean has always called to me. Three years ago, and living in Hawaii, I got started in the sport of stand up paddling (SUP). As a professional trainer and model, staying active was not only important to my professions but made my mind feel healthier as well. In 2009, I was injured in a freak accident, breaking both my legs. I was confined to a wheelchair for several months. My lower body atrophied in less than two weeks and I began to feel depressed.

For me, I knew that the sport I had just started only a few years prior was the way to get both my body and mind back. Being on the water was soothing, it comforted me, it made me feel connected and part of something.

After standing up and helping myself, I realized that stand up paddling was a viable way to help others achieve improved health as well. That’s why I’m honored to partner with NAMI in hosting a SUP event in the Bay Area. The founder of East Bay SUP and I had become friends through our common interest in stand up paddling. Through conversations she bravely shared with me how she had gone through periods of serious depression herself and how SUP helped her as well. I knew that we had to hold an event that would also help raise awareness for mental illness. So on June 4 in Oakland, Calif., we are holding the “Bay Area Stand Up Paddle Clinic” to help support NAMI.

SUP is very easy to learn and people of all individuals can learn. It’s an easy way to get people on the water and an effective form of relaxation and therapy. Surfing is currently being used to help U.S. veterans who have PTSD recover from the effects of war. And although some might be scared at first to get out here it’s often hard to get folks back off the water.

If you are interested in attending the event, there is still room, so sign up! If you have any other questions about getting involved in stand up paddling you can visit Suzie’s website or email her at