Max Schneier, J.D., 85, a founding member of NAMI, died this week at his home in Florida after a brief illness. Mr. Schneier was well-known nationally and internationally as a leading advocate for persons with mental illnesses. A keynote speaker at the first NAMI Convention in Madison, Wisconsin in 1979, he made the motion from the floor to form the national NAMI organization.
When Max Schneier's adolescent daughter was first diagnosed with mental illness in New York City more than 30 years ago, an eminent psychiatrist told Max that she was a "hopeless schizophrenic." The physician advised Max and his wife, Jody, to go home to their apartment and institutionalize their daughter and forget about her. He didn't realize that Max Schneier was a man who thought nothing was impossible, who never took "no" for an answer, and who had the tenacity to shake up any bureaucratic system to make it better. Schneier traveled across the country and eventually found Harvey's House, a psychosocial rehabilitation program in northern California to help his daughter.
Soon after, Schneier retired from a successful career as a businessman and devoted the rest of his life to becoming an unpaid mental health advocate. He was driven by an agenda that only he defined, and he was frequently brusque and unyielding with organizations and advocates who didn't agree with him. Yet, he also frequently pulled together coalitions of advocates to successfully work on issues of great importance to people with mental illnesses and their families.
Schneier devoted much of the last decade of his life to championing the policy of integrated care for persons with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse. Ironically, his death occurred on the eve of a meeting to finalize a major national report that will be issued shortly by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) on the treatment of people with co-occurring disorders. This report should be dedicated to Max, because it never would have happened without him.
No one worked harder than Max Schneier on the issues he cared about. In 1990, Schneier convinced NAMI to draft a friend of the court brief in a Florida case, Sanbourne v. Chiles, because he objected to a proposed settlement that would have guaranteed services to people released from South Florida State Hospital for only 30 days after discharge. According to Ron Honberg, NAMI's legal director, "Max appointed himself as my personal law clerk and spent several days in a law library reading cases and finding obscure citations and precedents. He would call me at home at midnight, reading me quotes from these cases and insisting that I insert them into the brief. Of course, he was right on point!"
E. Clarke Ross, D.P.A., NAMI's former Deputy Executive Director for Policy and currently the Executive Director of CHADD, recalls Schneier's significant role in promoting reforms in the use of mechanical and physical restraints. "Max was outraged when he read a series in the Hartford Courant describing scores of deaths of children and adults in restraints. As always, he translated his outrage into action. Max was an integral part of the advocacy that led to significant reforms in the way restraints are used today."
Max Schneier was truly a great champion for the rights of people with mental illnesses. He will be sorely missed.
NAMI thanks Irene S. Levine, Ph.D. for her significant contribution to this tribute.
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