Dr. Richard Lamb has been nominated by NAMI San Fernando Valley. View the nomination letter from NAMI San Fernando Valley. (pdf, opens in a new window).
Each board candidate was asked to answer several questions relating to NAMI and the experience they bring to the board. Each candidate was limited to 300 words for each answer. Read Richards's answers below:
Why do you want to serve on the NAMI National board of directors?
In 1975, I met Tony and Fran Hoffman. The Hoffmans and others had formed California’s first family support group, which later become a cornerstone of the NAMI movement. The Hoffmans and I published and made presentations together. I soon became aware of the family movement’s power to effect change.
I believe that I have much to offer the Board. While I am probably best known for my research and writing and my role in conceptualizing the treatment of persons with severe mental illness and the impact mental illness has on the family, I have other experience important to NAMI. I developed and ran a large vocational rehabilitation service for persons with severe mental illness. In addition, I ran an acute psychiatric inpatient service, a day treatment and aftercare service, psychiatric emergency services in a large city, and a community mental health center. I have also been a consultant to probation and police departments. I raised money from private sources and developed a range of supportive housing for persons with severe mental illness. Currently, I am Director of Mental Health Policy and Law and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Southern California.
Thus, I know first hand the workings and problems of public and private treatment facilities, what is involved in raising private funding, and the political pressures on and from mental health administrators. My research in the early 1980s revealed the criminalization of severely mentally ill persons, one of the most serious problems facing society today.
I have dedicated my professional career to the needs and problems of persons with severe mental illness. I am committed to the welfare of these individuals and their families, and believe strongly that I can play a role in NAMI’s unique ability to bring about change to reduce criminalization and increase services.
What financial management or fund raising expertise would you bring to the Board?
I have raised funding from private individuals in the community to set up and develop a private non-profit agency to provide housing for persons with severe mental illness. Included, initially, was a psychiatric half-way house, supportive apartments and a residential treatment center for adolescents. We hired a director and I served as consultant. Once we were up and running, we contracted with the County mental health services. This agency has flour?ished over the years and continues to grow. It has expanded into other counties in California and into Nevada.
I negotiated a contract with the State to set up and develop a community alternative to acute hospitalization. This was a thirty bed unit with an average stay of thirty days. The budget was just over one million dollars. Also included was a supported apartment program. The program later became a County contract. I continue to run this program to this day.
What is the most pressing public policy issue facing NAMI members today? What course of action do you suggest?
I believe the most pressing public policy issue facing NAMI members today is that of criminalization. While estimates vary, there are probably about 300,000 persons with severe mental illness in our jails and prisons. Clearly, jails and prisons constitute an inappropriate environment to treat mental illness. Moreover, these persons become doubly stigmatized as mentally ill and criminal.
The components of a system needed to correct this problem are known. We need greatly expanded community treatment services so that persons with severe mental illness can receive treatment and decrease their chances of entering the criminal justice system, greatly expanded training of police officers so that they can recognize mental illness when they encounter it and make appropriate dispositions to the mental health system, and specially trained crisis intervention teams of police officers and mental health professionals in the community.
For those mentally ill persons who are arrested, we need mental health courts who can divert these persons into the mental health system rather than simply keep them in jails and prisons. These courts work with mental health professionals in a collaborative effort to devise and implement a treatment plan that includes medications, therapy, housing, and social and vocational rehabilitation, all in an effort to address the individuals’ mental illness and reduce their risk for recidivism. Programs that are especially needed are intensive case management and assertive community treatment. However, there may be unforeseen limitations of these programs with respect to available resources. For instance, while effective diversion programs may be established, there are usually insufficient resources in the existing mental health system to accommodate those mentally ill persons diverted from the criminal justice system.
Vigorous advocacy efforts are needed to increase treatment and rehabilitation services. There is no more effective advocacy organization than NAMI to bring about these changes.
What brought you to NAMI -- and what is most valuable to you about your participation in the NAMI movement?
In 1975, I met Tony and Fran Hoffman. The Hoffmans and others had formed California’s first family support group, which later become one of the cornerstones of the NAMI movement. The Hoffmans and I published on the family movement and made presentations to the American Psychiatric Association and the World Psychiatric Association. Family members nationwide responded, asking how they, too, could form such groups. I had always seen mental illness as a neurobiological condition, not caused by parenting; interaction with these early family pioneers helped me cement that idea in my teaching and writing.
Over the years, I have collaborated with NAMI members in efforts to make persons with severe mental illness the highest priority in community mental health and to obtain additional and better services for them. I have always tried to have NAMI members teach in my seminars with medical students and residents in order to educate them on the importance of consumer advocacy groups.
NAMI named me an "Exemplary Psychiatrist" in 1992 and NAMI-California honored me with the 2003 Don and Peggy Richardson Memorial Award for Distinguished Service to Persons Afflicted with Serious Mental Illness. In 1998, I received the van Ameringen Award for Rehabilitation and Treatment from the American Psychiatric Association.
I believe NAMI members generally have a clear grasp of the issues and how to solve the problems pertaining to the treatment of persons with severe mental illness. NAMI members have learned by experience and are not weighted down by preconceived ideology. These characteristics plus my belief that NAMI offers the most hope to affect change are the most valuable aspects of my participation in the NAMI movement.
What is the most pressing internal or organizational issue facing NAMI today? What course of action do you suggest?
Last year I conducted an e-mail survey of NAMI affiliates nationwide. I asked each affiliate to say what they believe should be the priorities and goals of the organization and to name the three most important issues that NAMI should address. Very high on the list were issues between the affiliates and NAMI national. In many cases, there were concerns that the affiliates and NAMI national did not have a clear understanding of the needs and limitations of the other. Often, there seemed to be a lack of clear communication about the extent to which NAMI national could and should provide funding, education and other resources, as well as the issues that should be the focus of the greatest amount of advocacy.
These issues are and should continue to be a primary focus in the various sessions of the annual convention so that everyone is clear as to what the priorities are and should be. In addition, I believe it would be useful if there could be more direct contact during the year between the Board and staff at NAMI national and the affiliates.