Tuesday, January 24, 2012

NAMIWalks Makes Mental Illness Awareness a Community Issue

By Blair A. Young, NAMI National Walk Manager

Since my first involvement in 1988, nearly everyone I have spoken to in NAMI has described their dream of a time when mental illness can be discussed in public as an important issue worthy of public support and understanding. I began to understand the significance of these dreams and soon started dreaming of the same thing myself.

From the very beginning of the NAMI movement, part of the challenge was always the need to educate the public about serious mental illness—to let people know that mental illness, like diabetes and heart disease is an illness like any other, that it is indiscriminate in nature, that recovery is possible when the appropriate treatment is available, and that NAMI provides hope for individuals with a serious mental illness, for their families and for their communities.

This challenge seemed insurmountable at times. By the beginning of the 21st century, NAMI had built an extensive and powerful national network of advocates and the capacity to begin to initiate the conversations necessary to help people better understand the impact that mental illness has on their community. What was needed was a vehicle that allowed advocates to initiate these conversations on a scale that would begin to make a difference. The NAMIWalk program has provided the perfect opportunity to begin these important conversations.

NAMIWalks marks its 10th anniversary in 2012. Since its beginning, NAMIWalks has grown significantly and has become a “community walk for mental illness awareness” and the perfect way to engage every part of the communities that host these events. As each of these walks continues to grow, the opportunities to educate the public and to change the way people see serious mental illness will grow as well. We are approaching the point when these walks stop being so much about ‘walking for NAMI’ and more about ‘communities walking to raise awareness about mental illness.’ As that happens, some of our long held dreams will begin to come true.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Message of Martin Luther King, Jr. Resonates in NAMI

By Keris Myrick, NAMI Board Member

This New Year, like many before, I attended the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif. with my dad. We sat in our traditional grandstand seats at the intersection of Orange Grove and Colorado Boulevards, which marks the starting point for the Rose Parade. This year, however, there was a bonus "parade." Thousands of members of the Occupy Movement had announced that they would "occupy the Rose Parade." As one person put it, they hoped to “…inspire people to know that there is hope for a global community mlkworking and acting together for a better world.”

The peaceful and very diverse group marched by like a giant bright rainbow! The various banners, flags, slogans, and outfits were quite a sight especially after viewing the bright, beautiful floats, many touching our hearts with messages of survival and hope.

A bright yellow banner emblazoned with a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. caught my father's eye and then mine:

"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

So many of Dr. King’s inspiring words echo deeply with my lived experiences in this world as:

  • A person of color
  • A woman
  • A person who grew up around the world as a global nomad (an Army brat)
  • A person who has been given a serious mental illness diagnosis
  • The daughter of a black man from the south who was directly and adversely impacted by racism and who lived through the Civil Rights movement

Ultimately we know when a movement is powerful—it resonates at the collective level, changing systems, minds, hearts and nations no matter how one identifies. A movement is powerful when its core principles are continually replicated by people and groups seeking justice of any kind.

As a member and leader in NAMI, I think of my involvement as being in a movement that resonates with the words and actions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when we advocate for:

  • Equal access (“A right delayed is a right denied. – MLK)
  • Humane and effective treatment for people with serious mental illness (“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. – MLK)
  • Hope (“No person has the right to rain on your dreams.”MLK)

Most importantly I never give up; my dad never gives up; my peers never give up; I see my NAMI friends as tireless in their efforts too.

"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Election Mental Health Advocacy: Opportunity and Action

By Katrina Gay, NAMI Director of Communications

Much attention is being focused these days on politics and policy. From the GOP primary leading up to this fall’s presidential election to redistricting, the U.S. Supreme Court deliberation on the Affordable Care Act and the opening of many state legislative sessions across the country, 2012 promises to be a pivotal year for mental health care in America.

Amid all this activity, it is clear that we will have plenty of opportunities to share stories and messages, raise issues in the public discussion and influence the future direction of mental health care. As the new year begins, we at NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, encourage you to do your part to enhance candidates’ and policy makers’ understanding of mental illness. Here are a few ways you can help:

  • Connect with Candidates. The combination of redistricting and elections challenge us to cultivate relationships with candidates and new policy makers. This is an important time for us to reach out, to illustrate how policies affect our lives and to let policy makers know about the issues that are important to us. To support this effort, NAMI offers mental illness fact sheets, issues fact sheets, state fact sheets and talking points—these are available and will be updated with the latest information to help you explain the need for mental health services and funding.
  • Learn More. In 2011, NAMI released a series of reports on the state budget crisis that shows these cuts continue to threaten our already fragile mental health care system. The NAMI Grading the States report is another tool that continues to drive the debate. Use these to learn more about what is happening to funding of mental health services and our system of care for people living with mental illness in your state and across the country. Then, talk with candidates and policy makers about the need for services and supports that support real recovery for millions of Americans.
  • Take Action. News unfolds quickly and information travel fast in 2012. Following NAMI on Twitter to help stay abreast of the daily mental health news and happenings and subscribing to receive our advocacy updates and alerts are ways that you can easily stay connected—from your computer or your smart phones. Daily and weekly postings and alerts will feature news related to the ever-changing political and policy climate, ensuring that you are well informed.
  • Stay Tuned. NAMI will be launching a new Mental Health Care Gets My Vote website section and social media campaign dedicated to the elections. Liking NAMI on Facebook, following us on Twitter and bookmarking our website are good places to start to stay apprised of the campaign as it unfolds. Through these channels, voters and citizens will have access to the latest tools, information, discussions, community conversations and resources aimed to empower them to both enhance these relationships and encourage their voting process.

If advocacy is the process by which we aim to influence public policy and leadership decisions within our local, state and national community, we as NAMI and mental health advocates step confidently into 2012. Through our individual and combined efforts, we recognize this as a year full of opportunity for success and partnership as we strive to help ourselves and others and ensure that our country, from Main Street to the Capitol, is the best she can be for children, youth and adults living with mental illness and their families.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Arizona Tragedy: One Year Later

By Bob Carolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations

This week marks a sad anniversary. On January 8, 2011, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 13 other people were gravely wounded—and six persons killed—in a shooting attack in Tucson, Arizona.

Charged in the attack was Jared Lee Laughner, 23, who has since been diagnosed with schizophrenia, which had largely gone untreated. His photo appeared in news media across the country reinforcing misconceptions of mental illness and linkage to violence.

But something else also happened. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, 50 percent of Americans saw it as the result of failure in the mental care system, not simply mental illness. That recognition fueled a national debate over cuts in mental health services.

The U.S. Surgeon General has reported that the likelihood of violence from people with mental illness is low. In fact, “the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small.”

Despite perceptions that result from tragedies like that in Tucson, acts of violence are rare. They are a sign that something has gone terribly wrong, usually in the mental healthcare system.

When tragedies involving mental illness occur, it is essential to understand the reality of mental illness—and to find out what is wrong and what is right in the treatment system.

In Arizona, the Phoenix New Times has published an on-going series that has sought to do exactly that. The paper has noted that six months before the tragedy 3,000 seriously mentally ill people in Tucson’s Pima County alone ”lost almost all their services, including access to non-generic medication and caseworker supervision.” Thousands classified as "generally mentally ill" also lost funding.

“What's the one image [readers] took away from the Tucson shootings?” the paper asked.

“We thought so.”

“That mug shot of Jared Loughner is haunting. And for the world, it has become the face of mental illness in Arizona. Here, we know that's not true. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the story of what it's like to be mentally ill in this place cannot be told in a single photograph.”

“Tens of thousands of seriously mentally ill people live in Arizona. Some of them look just like you.”

The series has included stories about a doctor and a boxing historian who have overcome the worst of mental illness, as well as a man who is homeless but retains a sense of community. The reporters responsible for the series are Paul Rubin and Amy Silverman. Kudos to them! Read the series and if you want to send comments you can via, via the paper's website.

Meanwhile, Jared Laughner is in federal prison where because of his illness he is considered incompetent for trial. The prosecution y is fighting to medicate him to improve his condition so that he can be put on trial and—potentially—receive the death penalty

From a legal perspective, “competence” means that Laughner will need to be able to understand charges against him and assist in his defense at the time a trial begins. It’s not the same as the legal standard for an insanity defense, which would require that he have known the difference between right and wrong at the time of the attack. Definitions in the law are not the same as medical definitions.

So, this is a sad week of remembrance.

Looking beyond the tragedy of six lives lost and 14 others wounded, many serious issues in the case that will still be with us in the coming year—and years ahead.