Monday, January 13, 2014

I’m New on the Job. So Why NAMI? Why Now?

By Mary Giliberti, NAMI Executive Director

This is my first blog entry as NAMI’s new executive director and my second full week on the job. In starting my new job, I am deliberately spending much of my time listening to NAMI members and others and learning from them.

One question I am asked is why I wanted to become NAMI's executive director.

In some ways, it reflects two questions that can be posed to any one of us.

Why NAMI? Why now?

For me, it begins with my commitment to NAMI’s mission: helping to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness I’ve seen the difference that NAMI’s education, support and advocacy can make. From 2006 to late 2008, I served as NAMI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy. After working for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, becoming NAMI’s executive director has been like coming home. We share a strong sense of mission based on common values, which I believe draw all of us to NAMI.

NAMI is the home for many people who often are unable to get all the help they need out of the mental health care system. We are a beacon of hope that helps them navigate through a fragmented, confusing system—and provides hope for the future.

NAMI’s greatest strength is its people, which is the second reason why I wanted to be executive director. NAMI’s grassroots members and volunteers are the heart of our organization, along with the leaders of NAMI State Organizations and NAMI Affiliates. Our grassroots include people who teach NAMI Family-to-Family classes or facilitate NAMI Connection Recovery Support Groups. They include people who walk in NAMIWalks or meet with state legislators. They include people who rely on NAMI’s website for information or who share encouragement on NAMI’s Facebook page. Together, they are a source of passion, inspiration, energy and resilience that not only helps other people directly—but also is tremendous force for change.

NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. We are an organization of great diversity that steadily has become more inclusive as we have grown. Within the NAMI family, there sometimes are disagreements on issues, but there is always more that unites us than divides us and when we work together, we have more power than we know.

The opportunities that exist for NAMI at this moment in time are the third reason I wanted to be NAMI’s executive director. It’s the answer to the “Why Now?” question, which everyone should ask themselves. As NAMI prepares to redouble its work, everyone’s help is needed, including yours.

America is finally waking up to the need to provide treatment and support for persons living with mental illness. In 2013, everyone from the President to governors and other policymakers talked about mental health care and hopes for recovery. Our challenge today is to make sure that the national dialogue does not stop in 2014 and to make sure that dialogue leads to action. Change must mean progress, not broken promises.

We also are experiencing rapid changes in the health care system overall. The Affordable Care Act is one of the forces driving change, but there are others, including mental health insurance parity. NAMI needs to be at the forefront in advancing new ideas to improve treatment and life outcomes for people living with mental illness. We must not settle for “more of the same,” because more of the same is not enough. It is not acceptable that anyone be allowed to fall through the cracks due to neglect or an unresponsive system of care.

That’s why I’ve come back to NAMI.

NAMI is more than an organization, we are a movement—the one that can make the greatest difference. Now is the time to affirm commitments to our mission. NAMI is needed today more than ever before.

As we proceed, I want to hear your thoughts. I may not be able to reply to every comment I receive, but please be assured; I will read all of them. To get in touch with me and offer your comments and suggestions please email I will be writing more blog entries as part of an ongoing dialogue. I hope you will continue to join me in those discussions.



peonies19 said...

Congratulations and thank you for your commitment to bringing mental health awareness to the public. As a healthcare professional-it is with utmost concern to educate everyone the importance of balanced mental health as we've kept its importance on the back burner.

Acharya Girish Jha said...

hope to work with you by conducting workshops on simply rest and relaxation practices.

Anonymous said...

Why would NAMI hire a lawyer rather than an MD as their ED? Oh ya, they are more interested in law then medicine.

joflatfeet said...

Congratulations and hope you get much support from everyone. You sound very enthusiastic and I can feel the genuine concern in helping with the fight for mental health. as bipolar, I am now less afraid to be open about fighting stigma and see it is making a difference.

Anonymous said...

Welcome. I am hoping you will address the need to assist struggling rural affiliates by using county health depts more to help rural affiliates deliver the programs in the rural communities,thank you.

Soteria Allen said...

Dear Ms Mary Giliberti,
Mary Giliberti,
Welcome!! I believe you will make a great Executive Director for NAMI.
Having had schizophrenia & depression and been a mental health services consumer for years, but healed by God and all the people He used as well as His Word (Bible),I have much compassion for people with mental illness and also mental illness co-occurring with substance abuse. I now work to help people who get in trouble with the law, but need treatment instead of punishment, to be able to get 'what they really need' to be really helped, including staying recovered long term. I know from my own experience what I needed to bring change in my situation besides the very appreciated help from all the love and acceptance of the many people I had help from in the mental health field was to ALSO have attention to the spiritual part of my life. Though I was already a Christian, I wasn't aware of how much difference getting to know God (Jesus)better and learning more of His Word were going to make in my life---a BIG difference!! I'm no longer on psychiatric medications and no longer need to see a psychiatrist or have any mental health help.
I still love going to NAMI meetings to help others though!
It is my desire to see the holistic (whole person)approach to mental health recovery (including co-occurring with substance abuse)be used more and more, having become aware of it's extreme importance in a person's recovery from mental illness, and also (what wasn't my problem at the time) substance abuse.
I'm glad to see Haven for Hope in San Antonio, TX and The Jericho Project in Shelby County, TN (& I know there are others) have Criminal Justice/Mental Health systems that also include collaboration with other government agencies and also community businesses and services, including faith-based organizations. They are beautiful examples for us, providing much evidence of great success in bringing about changed lives! They show high percentages of people fully having their lives gotten turned around spiritually, emotionally, mentally, family relationships restored, gotten job/career help, and are HAPPY!! It of course takes involvement and work on the part of the receiver, but with God's love and encouragement as well as the loving encouragement of people, there is a very high rate of success. And those in the leadership of these programs are ever working to do what brings better and better results---out of the love & care they have for people. No more cycling in and out of jail/prison, on probation, etc but lives happy and productive, including having provided for them what is needed to stay recovered, when the spiritual part of a person's life in included, and even its importance emphasized.
You seem like you will be a very good director for NAMI, having it much in your heart. I believe God has led you into this position. God has a heart of compassion for those with mental illness and those incarcerated, and also those in the justice system not getting the help they really need. (Of course, God has a heart of Compassion for all!)
Thank you for taking this challenging position. Keep TRUSTING GOD when those impossible situations arise--God loves us, and is a God of miracles. You have probably seen that much yourself already!!
"Nothing is too difficult for the Lord!!" (Luke 1:37)

With Jesus' Compassion 4 America! (& the world!!)
Love, Soteria Allen (& Jesus!!)

Rhonda Lee said...

Ms Giliberti,

Thank you for sharing your desires, goals and words of commitment for NAMI's mission in continuing to offer hope, help, and healing to those affected by mental illness. As a family member of a loved one living with a disorder, my hope is to share and make NAMI a household name since family and friends are usually the first responders. Educating our communities is important; knowledge is powerful and we can't afford to be powerless. Congratulations to you and NAMI leaders as we look forward to a brighter future in behavioral health care!

dilmom said...

Welcome. Your call to ACTION is welcome. Action is what has been slow coming from NAMI. I hope NAMI, under your leadership, produces the same degree of success as has been achieved by so many other advocacy groups. We have been offered only scraps in the past. We can no loner be satisfied with pats on the head and broken promises -- we need to demand for our loved ones what is freely given to others. The mentally ill deserve the same compassion that would be given to any other disabled population. I have been with NAMI since Eleanor Owen and a few friends (families) started NAMI back in the '70s. I can no longer be patient. We have waited too long for assertive, aggressive ACTION. Real action is long overdue. NAMI started as a grassroots organization and it needs to return to its roots.

Farrell Fitch said...

Congratulations and welcome! I've no doubt that NAMI will benefit from your many talents, experience and enthusiasm. NAMI is a family of great diversity, as you mentioned, and our passion for solving the mysteries of mental illness and ensuring that people who have brain disorders are afforded lives of dignity and productivity unites us. Thank you for coming home to NAMI. Farrell Fitch

Anonymous said...

Ms Gilberti:
I'm in complete agreement with the previous post. Unfortunately, the NAMI organization has changed course and alienated some of it's staunchest supporters in the process. Many people have left NAMI because of burnout and lack of appreciation for their tireless efforts. Volunteers are the life-blood of NAMI! Please listen to their concerns. More action on the stubborn issues such as: stigma; the re-emergence of parental blame and the possible effects of long-term use of meuroleptics.
NAMI should spend less time on internal politics and more time on the difficult issues.
The organization's member's and supporter's deserve more--not less.
Beverly (23 year member) Yucca Valley. Ca

Janet Allem said...


I am so glad that you are now leading NAMI. Your tremendous knowledge and many years of commitment