Fred Frese was nominated by NAMI Summit County (OH). View the nomination letter from NAMI Summit County. (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 Fred's answers below:
NAMI Self-Identification Statement
At age 25, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, a condition for which I have been repeatedly hospitalized, mostly involuntarily. I have received treatment for my condition in various military, county, state, private and Veterans Administration psychiatric hospitals. I also have family members who experience serious mental illness.
Why do you want to serve on the NAMI National board of directors?
I would like to continue serving on the NAMI National Board of Directors because:
First, we continue to abandon too many persons with mental illness. We still have some 150,000 homeless mentally ill persons, and over 300,000 mentally ill persons in our prisons and jails. And suicide rates for the seriously mentally ill run from 10% to 15% and higher. Theses numbers are outrageous and intolerable. NAMI must make maximum efforts to continue establishing police training programs, mental health courts and other jail diversionary programs throughout the country. Educational programs in school and elsewhere must highlight mental illness and its relationship to suicide.
Secondly, NAMI must better embrace the concept of recovery. We must more aggressively seek out mechanisms for integrating recovering persons into society. The 90% unemployment rate for our people is intolerable. We all want to have meaningful roles in society. NAMI must become more effective in making this happen. In this vein, NAMI must better coordinate with others in the disability community. We must ensure that the mentally ill are no longer left out of opportunities as they often have been in the past.
Finally our national NAMI office must better attend to the needs of our affiliates and our members. Phone calls and e-mails must be acknowledged and returned more efficiently. Our membership record keeping must be improved. Our members are our most important asset and should be treated as such. I am very concerned that responses from our membership surveys are not being taken seriously enough.
If I receive your support to be your representative again, be assured that I will do my best to ensure that these and other important issues are addressed. NAMI must never forget our mission to make America a better place for persons with mental illness and their families.
What financial management or fund raising expertise would you bring to the Board?
The primary duties of the Board of Directors are overseeing policy-making and fiscal activities. Concerning fiscal matters it is crucial that Board members know how to read financial statements and that they be assertive in asking questions about figures that warrant inquiry. During the time that I have had the honor of serving on the NAMI Board, I have found it most helpful to be a graduate of one of the nation’s leading schools of International Management. There, at the American Graduate School of International Management, in Phoenix, I studied both principles of accounting and, importantly, analysis of financial statements.
Because of this training, I find that I am fairly comfortable in reading financial reports. I tend to be particularly sensitive to financial reporting of required reserves and their ratios to income and expense levels. Twice during my tenure as a NAMI Board member, I have had to very forcefully question reported financial statements which appeared to suggest serious problems with NAMI’s financial condition. As many NAMI members remember, most recently, NAMI National had to significantly “reorganize” its personnel structure as a result of financial “shortfalls”.
I am currently satisfied that the financial house of NAMI is improving. But as long as the membership continues to have me serve on its Board, rest assured that I will watch financial reports “like a paranoid hawk”.
The other side of fiscal responsibility is, of course, fundraising. My wife and I are not wealthy. But, through the donations we have been able to make, we have been continuing members of the Iris Circle since the late 1980’s. We have also engaged in numerous fund-raising activities around the country during this time.
What is the most pressing public policy issue facing NAMI members today? What course of action do you suggest?
The three broad areas I attend to in my role as a NAMI National Board member are Mission, Money, and Membership (The three M’s). I tend to think of Money and Membership as primarily being internal, organizational issues.
NAMI’s mission is to improve the lives of persons with serious mental illness and their families. I see one of our biggest problems is that of staying "on mission". Far too frequently, I see NAMI’s attention being diverted to ancillary and tangential issues. World hunger, war and peace, globalization, global warming, etc., are all serious, pressing issues, but it is important that NAMI "stay on mission" and not have our attention and resources diverted to endeavors, which while they may be most worthy, are not directly related to the well being of persons with serious mental illness.
In staying on mission, NAMI’s focus should be on treatment, housing, and integration of our folks into society.
Treatment focus must include access to needed medications. Access includes affordability. We must continue to support research into developing still better medications. We must not forget that treatment means more than medications. Family- and psycho-education, illness self-management, and other recovery oriented, evidence-based treatments are also approaches NAMI must continue to aggressively support.
Decent housing in safe neighborhoods must become a greater priority for NAMI. Too often our people are forced to live in sub-standard, dangerous dwellings, and far too often still found homeless and abandoned.
Reintegration into society entails attacking stigma and discrimination. We must work to tear down the barriers to entry into school programs and to the workforce. Federal job programs for the disabled must better include persons with serious mental illnesses. And serious mental illness must be de-criminalized.
What brought you to NAMI -- and what is most valuable to you about your participation in the NAMI movement?
After ten years of being repeatedly hospitalized for schizophrenia and another ten years of being in outpatient treatment, I felt I had a fairly solid experiential base regarding some of the more serious problems confronting persons with schizophrenia. By the mid 1980’s I found myself with a doctorate in psychology, working in Ohio’s largest state psychiatric hospital, trying to improve conditions for persons who had the same disorder I had. But very few of my fellow staff members seemed to understand much about what life was like for persons with serious mental illness.
Then, I attended a meeting of a group then called, AMI of Greater Cleveland. I was awed by the experience. It was so very clear to me that here was a group of people who really had relevant experience concerning serious mental illness, mostly through what their family members were experiencing. Furthermore, these NAMI members seemed very determined to change things for the better.
In 1989 I attended my first NAMI national convention, in Cincinnati. I had been told it would be a virtual “love fest”. I found that description most telling. I have attended every NAMI national convention since then. Additionally my family members and I have also been invited to speak virtually hundreds of times at state and local NAMI meetings since then. We have always been exceedingly impressed by the passion and dedication of our fellow NAMI members.
There is no way I can ever repay NAMI families for all they are accomplishing, but I do have the deepest appreciation for the power of the passion that NAMI members consistently demonstrate as we continue to transform our fragmented, mental health non-system.
What is the most pressing internal or organizational issue facing NAMI today? What course of action do you suggest?
As a NAMI Board member I try to stay focused on mission, money and membership. I have addressed the issues, "staying on mission" and "money" in the other statements I have submitted. I will now address my remaining priority, that of membership.
I get concerned whenever I meet someone who tells me they have signed up for membership in NAMI, but have not heard back. Others have indicated to that they are not receiving the Advocate, even though they say they have paid their dues.
A few years ago, a decision was made that the national NAMI office would no longer process or keep track of membership. This was a serious mistake. NAMI’s most valuable asset is our members. Members must be cherished, appreciated and counted. I am still confident that NAMI continues to be the largest advocacy group for persons with serious mental illness in the country. But we can not take our members for granted. They must be carefully listened to. Members’ needs must be responded to. Members must know how much the national organization values them. Once again the Board of Directors must have ongoing counts of our membership in every state and affiliate. It is only by tracking trends in membership that we can know that NAMI continues to grow.
Not long after being returned to the Board, and after the immediate financial difficulties were addressed, I became disturbed that national NAMI had abdicated its responsibilities toward monitoring and fostering membership growth. Fortunately the new executive leadership of NAMI has been responsive to these concerns. Meetings are now being held and hopefully concrete plans will be developed so that we can once again experience a healthy growth in our membership.