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Image Suzanne Clifford

Suzanne Clifford was nominated by NAMI Indiana.  View the nomination letter from NAMI Indiana. (pdf, opens in 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 Suzanne's answers below:

NAMI Self-Identification Statement

When I was a little girl, I had an aunt with an undiagnosed mental illness.  It was years before she received treatment and began the recovery process.  I learned about the critical role that NAMI plays in the lives of consumers with severe mental illness and their families. 

Why do you want to serve on the NAMI National board of directors? 

I am interested in serving on the NAMI National Board because I want to help make the world a better place for families impacted by mental illness.  I believe that NAMI’s grassroots efforts are critical to creating policies, education, research and programs that transform our nation’s mental health system and reduce stigma.  I would like to support the NAMI mission by leveraging my skills in policy, planning, marketing, research, evidence-based practices, and program development.

I am interested in supporting NAMI by applying the learning from my current experiences that include:

  • President of Inspiring Transformations, Inc., a consulting practice that partners with families, consumers, advocates, government, the private sector, mental health providers, social services, and community leaders to transform mental health systems
  • NAMI Indiana Advisory Committee
  • Mental Health Association of Indiana Board of Directors
  • Traumatic Brain Injury Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee
  • Indiana’s Advocacy Liaison for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (Influencing policy and the US Congress regarding research/healthcare issues & funding)

I would like to maximize the following past experiences to help move the NAMI agenda forward:

  • Served two governors as the Indiana Director of Mental Health and Addiction.  Ran the state’s $367 million organization that served 100,000 people.  Partnered with NAMI to create policies/legislation, promote CIT, organize “In Our Own Voice” presentations, resolve issues, and drive mental health systems transformation.
  • Board of Directors of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD)
  • Co-Chaired the National Quality and Accountability Committee of the NASMHPD Research Institute
  • Worked with NIMH and NASMHPD to bridge the science to service gap
  • Developed deep neuroscience expertise via management positions at Eli Lilly and Company in the research labs, strategic planning and the U.S. and global neuroscience businesses
  • MBA from Indiana University

What financial management or fund raising expertise would you bring to the Board?

My financial management expertise includes an MBA, private sector budget management skills and experience running my own business.  In addition, as the Director of the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction, I managed a $367 million budget that served 100,000 people.  As an appointee for two governors, I was responsible for creating and presenting the business case for mental health funding to legislators and the executive branch.  As a result of having a clear business case for mental health funding, Indiana’s Budget Committee approved a budget supporting the construction of a new psychiatric hospital to replace an old, less-efficient facility.

My fund raising experience includes working with NAMI Indiana, the Mental Health Association of Indiana, Big Sisters, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, the International School of Indiana, St. Thomas Aquinas church, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.   In addition to my experience with large fundraising events such as formal dinners, auctions, and walks, I also understand how to work with large funders such as government and the private sector.  As a member of the neuroscience management team at Eli Lilly and Company, I worked closely with advocacy groups to fund educational programs.  I learned how to create successful partnerships that followed strict ethical guidelines and identified best practices for how advocacy organizations and the private sector can work together appropriately.  As the Director of the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction, I learned how to effectively approach the legislative and executive branches for funding.  One of the keys to success in fund raising is to understand the funder’s interests and goals.  My diverse background in business, government, and advocacy allows me to see things from different perspectives and identify common ground. 

What is the most pressing public policy issue facing NAMI members today?  What course of action do you suggest?

The transformation of our mental health system is the most pressing public policy issue facing NAMI.  Without significant improvements, families will continue to struggle with a fragmented, inefficient mental health system.  According to the World Health Organization, mental illness continues to be a leading cause of disability.   In addition, the US Department of Education reported that less than half of the children with serious emotional disturbances graduate high school.  This is worse than any other disability group.  It is not surprising that many of these people with an undiagnosed mental illness and without a high school education end up homeless, unemployed and involved in the criminal justice system.  Incremental changes to our nation’s mental health system are not enough. 

There has never been a better opportunity to transform our mental health system.  Both the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health and the Institute of Medicine’s report on mental illness called for transformation.  I suggest that NAMI join forces with other mental health organizations to accelerate the transformation of our country’s mental health system.  Key focus areas should include, but are not limited to:

  • The reduction of stigma and discrimination
  • Early identification & interventions for children, adolescents and adults
  • Funding and access to treatment and research
  • Ensuring that Medicaid, Medicare, VA, Social Security, HUD, and Vocational Rehabilitation promote recovery
  • Culturally competent services
  • Criminal justice diversion to treatment
  • Increased family and consumer empowerment
  • Employment & housing

What brought you to NAMI -- and what is most valuable to you about your participation in the NAMI movement?

Several personal and professional experiences brought me to NAMI.   As a young child, I had an aunt with a severe mental illness.  I thought that simply changing my behavior would alleviate her symptoms and was disheartened when I realized that this approach did not work.  I learned about the challenges and guilt that family members experience when a loved one has an untreated mental illness.  Years later, she moved out west and was finally diagnosed and treated.  This experience reinforced the value of NAMI’s programs for families impacted by mental illness.   

My professional experiences in the private and public sectors continue to bring me back to NAMI.   For example, as Director of the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction, I relied on NAMI to provide strong family input that was critical to the development of state mental health policy.  The NAMI Indiana Board provided valuable input into the state’s vision for mental health and the transformation plan.  After I left state government to focus on mental health system transformation, NAMI was involved to ensure that the transformation focused on what was most important to families.

The most valuable aspect about my participation in the NAMI movement has been the amazing people that I have met.  I am impressed with how members of NAMI have been able to channel their challenges with mental illness into positive energy that results in improved support for other families.  I feel fortunate to be part of the NAMI family.

What is the most pressing internal or organizational issue facing NAMI today?  What course of action do you suggest?

I believe that the most pressing internal issue facing NAMI is maintaining a grassroots approach while communicating clear messages that influence policy makers and the general public.   Part of NAMI’s appeal is its diverse, passionate advocates who welcome new people into the NAMI family.  One NAMI member may be interested in educating the criminal justice system, another may want to influence mental health parity legislation and another might want to work with the media to reduce stigma.  As Director of the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction, I learned that mental health advocates are able to quickly switch from one subject to the next, but policy makers, the general public, and legislators require clear, simple messages.  Often I would understand what advocates were requesting, but legislators and other members of the executive branch who did not specialize in mental health would not understand how the requests of multiple advocates fit together. 

I suggest that we continue to integrate the passion and diversity of the NAMI members into a clear message about mental health systems transformation that communicates how all of the critical mental health issues fit together.  It is also important that we create a clear business case demonstrating the value of investing in mental health treatment.  We need to communicate simple, solution-oriented messages that make it easy for legislators, policy makers, and the general public to take action.  Aligning passionate individuals is challenging, but will have the greatest impact.    


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