The first state launch of the Campaign for the Mind of America took off like a rocket in West Virginia’s state capital rotunda, amid dozens of campaign partners, key state lawmakers and media on January 26.
"This campaign is a great opportunity to bring all communities together, such as law enforcement, teachers and counties, as well as educate lawmakers, so that we can give greater and more effective care to those living with mental illness," said Michael Fitzpatrick, acting NAMI executive director.
As state lawmakers and media meandered around the capital following NAMI’s news conference and launch, Fitzpatrick and Michael Ross, WV NAMI Executive Director, wasted little time working the crowd, shaking hands and getting meetings with West Virginia’s most influential leaders – their mission to discourage cuts in mental health services and add awareness to the campaign.
"As a legislature, I believe we will do all we can to find a way to adequately fund mental health services," said Vic Sprouse, WV Senate Minority Leader, and a strong supporter of WV NAMI. "It transcends political boundaries … and I believe we live in a state that works to protect its most vulnerable citizens."
As the state faces a $120 million deficit, West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, has asked most state agencies to cut spending by about 9 percent.
Many traditional and non-traditional partners, whose tables lined the House and Senate corridors in support of the Campaign for the Mind of America launch, say deep cuts will have a devastating effect on those living with mental illness.
"The key to success is services," said Linda Artimez-Richmond, Program Director, Mental Health Court Diversion Program. "The state has got to commit more, rather than less, to services that address the most basic of needs, such as clothing, food and shelter, for those living with mental illness."
"Counties care about mental health in our communities and we certainly don’t want to see the state cut services," said Vivian Parsons, Executive Director, County Commissioners Association of West Virginia, who was officially partnering with WV NAMI for the first time. "That’s why we are here, because it’s important to us."
In a state with about 1.4 million people, West Virginia NAMI estimates that 75,000 residents, including about 13 percent of its children, suffer from serious mental disorder.
"We can not wait another day, another year, or another decade for real progress," Ross told supporters and lawmakers. "Mental health policy has failed West Virginians living with mental disorders for too long."
For more on the launch, read an article from the Charleston Daily Mail.