NAMI Challenges Decision Makers To Make Mental Illness Recovery A Priority
Gaps in Treatments and Services, Solutions Highlighted During Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 3-9, 1999
For Immediate Release, 1 Oct 99
Contacts: Mary Rappaport 703/312-7886
Peg Nichols 703/516-7226
Arlington, VA --- In observance of Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 3-9), the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) will forcefully urge national, state, and local policy makers to take the steps necessary to end the unemployment, homelessness, poverty, criminalization, social isolation, and premature death that mark the lives of people with severe mental illnesses.
"This has been a year of shocking headlines that tell only the partial tale of mental illness," said NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn. "The real story behind the disturbing media reports is that millions of Americans valiantly struggling with a mental illness are shut out of a healthcare system that denies them treatments and services so vital to recovery."
Throughout the week, NAMI members across the country will carry this message forward at hundreds of scheduled community-based events, including political rallies, town meetings, panel discussions, book signings, candlelight vigils, art exhibitions, concerts, and more.
At a special congressional symposium on October 13, 1999, NAMI will call on federal lawmakers to make a national commitment to ending discriminatory policies and laws, with a particular emphasis on children and adolescents who aren't able to receive adequate care for their mental illnesses. The event will be held in partnership with the American Psychiatric Association and with the support of the Senate Working Group on Mental Health and House Working Group on Mental Illness and Health Issues.
"We want to remind our nation's leaders that when the shock from the latest tragedy fades," said Flynn, "five million Americans - individuals who will never make the headlines or commit acts of violence - still remain in the shadows of our society without the care they desperately need."
Under the current mental health system, Flynn also said, "treatment is too often denied. People end up dependent, destitute, or dead."
NAMI is using Mental Illness Awareness Week as a platform to promote its Omnibus Mental Illness Recovery Act, model legislation the advocacy group is offering to state lawmakers that would replicate evidence-based programs proven critical to recovery.
"What individuals with mental illnesses and their families need are real solutions," said Flynn. "NAMI's model legislation provides an actual blueprint for recovery that states can implement immediately."
The NAMI model legislation, which is designed for introduction in state legislatures as a single package or as separate initiatives, consists of eight critical components: consumer and family participation in mental illness services planning; equitable healthcare coverage; access to newer medications; assertive community treatment, including the evidence-based PACT model; work incentives for individuals with a mental illness; reduction in life-threatening and harmful actions within treatment settings; reduction in the criminalization of persons with severe mental illness; and access to safe, affordable housing with appropriate community-based services.
NAMI is also developing draft legislation to focus on the injustice of families having to relinquish legal custody of their children in order to receive mental health services and on the promotion of integrated treatment models for individuals with co-occurring mental and addictive disorders.
NAMI's 20th anniversary and remarkable growth as the nation's leading grassroots advocacy organization dedicated solely to helping people with the most severe mental illnesses will also be celebrated during Mental Illness Awareness Week. In September 1979, 284 individuals from around the country met at the University of Wisconsin in Madison to establish the fledgling organization. Fueled by public stigma, a woefully inadequate mental healthcare system, and scientific ignorance about mental illness, these courageous pioneers set into motion a national movement that thrives today. Two decades later, NAMI has more than 210,000 members, 1,200 affiliates in all 50 states, and more than 70 national staff members working in the areas of research, public policy, legal affairs, membership, communications, and development.
Milestones in NAMI's history include the Campaign to End Discrimination, now in its fourth year; a toll-free HelpLine whose staff of dedicated volunteers answer more than 75,000 calls each year; an award-winning Web site that receives four million hits annually; NAMI's Family-to-Family Education Program; support groups nationwide; and legislative victories such as the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, which sparked a nationwide discussion of the need for equal healthcare benefits for those with serious brain disorders.
"In just two decades, NAMI has fought and won many battles, on many fronts," said Harriet Shetler, a founding member who organized NAMI's historic meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. "What began as a small, but fiercely dedicated group of family members ready to fight for the lives of and respect for their loved ones has evolved into a powerfully effective and unified voice on behalf of those with the most severe mental illnesses."
Editor's Note: For information about Mental Illness Awareness Week activities in your community; expert analysis of a wide range of issues related to severe mental illnesses, current data on research, treatments and rates of prevalence; access to persons with severe mental illness and their families who are willing to share personal stories with the media or comment on breaking news, please contact Peg Nichols at 703/516-7226, or see NAMI's Web site at www.nami.org.