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Gary Mihelish

Gary Mihelish, D.M.D.

Nominated by NAMI Helena

I have a family member who has lived with schizophrenia for 28 years. It took six troubled and turbulent years prior to a definitive diagnosis of schizophrenia. Evidenced based treatment including medication has allowed my family member to recover, be employed and be a productive member of our community.

What brought you to NAMI and what roles have you played in your NAMI Affiliate and NAMI State Organization?

I found NAMI after surviving six years of family trauma related to the onset of schizophrenia in a family member. Our family navigated a dysfunctional mental illness treatment system without a diagnosis or effective treatment. Eventually we were able to find NAMI and the experience has literally saved our lives and the life of our loved one. I have been president of NAMI Helena for almost 20 years. My largest contribution has been to increase awareness that severe mental illnesses are very real, treatable and that persons and families living with severe mental illnesses can be worthy participants in the community. I was president of NAMI Montana for eight years. During that time we were able to increase the budget from $8000.00 per year to $120,000.00 per year. We were able pass a parity insurance law for severe mental illnesses, promote the development of PACT Teams in the stat, bring effective CIT to Montana, develop a very successful NAM Walk and hire an executive director. Most of all I think were able to help NAMI Montana become a major participant in the political arena. NAMI Montana is now regarded as the authority on mental illness in the state of Montana.

What advocacy and organizational priority areas do you believe NAMI should be pursuing in the next three years and how can you help as a Board member?

Although NAMI's presence has made significant progress in reducing stigma and discrimination we still have a long way to go. In spite of our best efforts, there is still a great deal of ignorance related to the causes, the possibility of recovery and the integration of persons living with severe mental illnesses and their families into the community. I feel I am an effective, outspoken advocate who can be effective in developing better public awareness related to severe mental illnesses. I think we need to continue to develop public education tools, but we must continue to support, develop and improve NAMI's various educational programs. I have taught the NAMI Family-to-Family Class almost 30 times. I am a NAMI F2F teacher, trainer. I have taught the Provider Education Class and have been trained to be a NAMI Support Group Facilitator. I have promoted NAMI's Peer-to-Peer Education Program as well as the IOOV presentations. My experiences in all of this has helped me to understand and respect the trauma and difficulties persons living with severe mental illnesses and their families must live with daily. It has also shown me the successes and positive results that can occur when we become educated and collaborate for better outcomes.

Please describe any previous service on a board and what you regard as your greatest contribution to that organization’s work through your service on its board. How will you make service on the NAMI Board of Directors your top volunteer priority?

I have served on the NAMI Montana Board of Directors for almost 20 years. I also served eight years as president. Much of that time I also served as the Chairman of the Legislative and Public Policy Committee. My greatest contribution came during the 1997 and 1999 legislative sessions. With the cooperation and collaboration of a Democratic senator and a Republican representative, we were able to pass legislation which provided insurance parity for persons living with severe mental illnesses. I would bring the same passion and persistence to the NAMI Board were I to be elected.

How can you contribute to NAMI’s evolution as “a dynamic, well-run organization that seeks and engages a diverse and growing membership,” as called for in the NAMI strategic plan?

I am enthusiastic about NAMI's mission and what NAMI does to improve the lives of persons living with severe mental illnesses and their families. When I joined NAMI over 20 years ago it was the only organization dedicated and focused on improving the lives of those living with severe mental illnesses. It was also the only organization where persons living with severe mental illnesses and their families could work and collaborate together to fight the stigma and discrimination which exists as well as advocate for better treatment and services. If we are to win, it must be a collaborative process. It would be my hope NAMI could continue to be the leading organization advocating for persons living with severe mental illnesses. NAMI needs to continue to grow by welcoming more individuals living with severe mental illness and their families. I feel I have the skills and the capabilities to do this work.

What fund raising, financial oversight, legal, marketing, or information technology expertise do you have to offer to NAMI?

I feel that I have been generous in my financial contributions the last ten years. I was part of the initial group to bring the NAMI Walk to Montana. With an ambitious, dedicated group of volunteers from NAMI Helena we have developed a very successful NAMI Walk for the last 10 years. The money raised by the Walk funds the NAMI Montana office and the participating affiliates. In 1978 I was asked to be an investor in a new bank in Helena, Montana. I served on the Board of Directors of the Valley Bank of Helena for 25 years. This has helped me to understand financial matters which should benefit me should I be elected to the NAMI Board of Directors.

Job Title or Position: President
Employer: NAMI Helena
NAMI Affiliations: NAMI Montana, Board of Directors Vice President
Other Board Service: Montana Mental Health, Chairman Charitable Trust Lewis & Clark County Local Mental Health Advisory Committee, Vice Chairman Mental Health Advisory Board
Public Office: I am not currently serving in a public office.

Candidate Statement as Published in the NAMI Advocate

I have been described as a passionate advocate for persons living with serious mental illnesses and their families. It is a description I accept. 28 years ago severe mental illness entered into our family. It was the first time I ever been exposed to the stigma and discrimination which affects people and families who live with severe mental illnesses. As a health care provider, I was shocked at the lack of assistance and support given to those who live with severe mental illnesses and their families. Eight years later I found NAMI and NAMI literally saved our family. I am particularly indebted to NAMI's education programs. In 1996 my wife and I took the NAMI Family-to-Family Teacher Training from Dr. Joyce Burland and it saved our marriage. We have taught F2F almost 30 times and we have become F2F teacher, trainers for Montana. I am also a trained NAMI Support Group Facilitator and have taught the NAMI Provider Education Course. I strongly support the NAMI Peer-to-Peer Education Program, IOOV and the Connections Support Groups. I have been a member of the NAMI Montana Board of Directors for almost 20 years, serving eight years as president. We have supported the implementation of PACT Teams in Montana, brought CIT Training to the state, developed a successful NAMI Walk and hired a full time executive director. After three years of dedicated legislative effort we were able to pass insurance parity for severe mental illness in the Montana legislature. I am enthusiastic about NAMI's mission and what NAMI does to improve the lives of persons living with serious mental illnesses and their families. I look forward to the opportunity to serve NAMI and grow to help persons living with severe mental illnesses and their families.

Related Files

Gary Mihelish Candidate Speech

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