I’m New on the Job. So Why NAMI? Why Now?

Jan. 13, 2014

This is my first blog entry as NAMI’s new executive director and my second full week on the job. In starting my new job, I am deliberately spending much of my time listening to NAMI members and others and learning from them.

One question I am asked is why I wanted to become NAMI's executive director.

In some ways, it reflects two questions that can be posed to any one of us.

Why NAMI? Why now?

For me, it begins with my commitment to NAMI’s mission: helping to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness I’ve seen the difference that NAMI’s education, support and advocacy can make. From 2006 to late 2008, I served as NAMI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy. After working for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, becoming NAMI’s executive director has been like coming home. We share a strong sense of mission based on common values, which I believe draw all of us to NAMI.

NAMI is the home for many people who often are unable to get all the help they need out of the mental health care system. We are a beacon of hope that helps them navigate through a fragmented, confusing system—and provides hope for the future.

NAMI’s greatest strength is its people, which is the second reason why I wanted to be executive director. NAMI’s grassroots members and volunteers are the heart of our organization, along with the leaders of NAMI State Organizations and NAMI Affiliates. Our grassroots include people who teach NAMI Family-to-Family classes or facilitate NAMI Connection Recovery Support Groups. They include people who walk in NAMIWalks or meet with state legislators. They include people who rely on NAMI’s website for information or who share encouragement on NAMI’s Facebook page. Together, they are a source of passion, inspiration, energy and resilience that not only helps other people directly—but also is tremendous force for change.

NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. We are an organization of great diversity that steadily has become more inclusive as we have grown. Within the NAMI family, there sometimes are disagreements on issues, but there is always more that unites us than divides us and when we work together, we have more power than we know.

The opportunities that exist for NAMI at this moment in time are the third reason I wanted to be NAMI’s executive director. It’s the answer to the “Why Now?” question, which everyone should ask themselves. As NAMI prepares to redouble its work, everyone’s help is needed, including yours.

America is finally waking up to the need to provide treatment and support for persons living with mental illness. In 2013, everyone from the President to governors and other policymakers talked about mental health care and hopes for recovery. Our challenge today is to make sure that the national dialogue does not stop in 2014 and to make sure that dialogue leads to action. Change must mean progress, not broken promises.

We also are experiencing rapid changes in the health care system overall. The Affordable Care Act is one of the forces driving change, but there are others, including mental health insurance parity. NAMI needs to be at the forefront in advancing new ideas to improve treatment and life outcomes for people living with mental illness. We must not settle for “more of the same,” because more of the same is not enough. It is not acceptable that anyone be allowed to fall through the cracks due to neglect or an unresponsive system of care.

That’s why I’ve come back to NAMI.

NAMI is more than an organization, we are a movement—the one that can make the greatest difference. Now is the time to affirm commitments to our mission. NAMI is needed today more than ever before.

As we proceed, I want to hear your thoughts. I may not be able to reply to every comment I receive, but please be assured; I will read all of them. To get in touch with me and offer your comments and suggestions please email YourComments@nami.org. I will be writing more blog entries as part of an ongoing dialogue. I hope you will continue to join me in those discussions.

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