When I met Bebe Moore Campbell back in 2005, I had no idea I would be here today — more than 15 years later — carrying on her work as the CEO of NAMI.
At the time, I was still working in the private sector. It turns out my friend and former colleague from Xerox, David Garnett, and his wife were good friends with her from college. So when Bebe was in Washington, D.C., working with Congress, David hosted a dinner for some of his friends and family to meet her. My wife and I were fortunate enough to receive an invitation.
I didn’t know much about Bebe when we went to that dinner. I knew that she was an acclaimed writer, a national speaker and the mom of a Hollywood actor. But I didn’t know about her involvement with NAMI or about all the struggles she faced trying to find resources for her daughter living with bipolar disorder. It wasn’t merely what I learned at that dinner that was impactful, but all I would continue to learn moving forward.
Learning the Facts
Did you know that Black adults are more likely to experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness than white adults? That suicide rates for Indigenous youth are over double the rate of white youth? That the LGBTQI community is two to four times as likely to experience a mental health condition compared to heterosexual adults? And that adults with disabilities report experiencing frequent mental distress almost five times as often as adults without disabilities?
For Latin American immigrants, migration can contribute to depression, suicide and stress. And Asian American adults with mental illness are less likely to have received mental health treatment in the past year compared to any other racial or ethnic group.
Despite these (and more) elevated needs, these underserved communities remain frequently underrepresented in mental health research and unable to access care. Systemic inequities, implicit biases and cultural stigma all contribute to ongoing disparities for these populations.
The Example Bebe Set
Miscounted. Misunderstood. Marginalized. Undervalued. Underrepresented. Underserved. For many, this is the price of being different. For all of us, that cost is too high. When people don’t receive the mental health care they need, it affects all of us.
That’s something Bebe Moore understood well. It’s part of why she continues to be an inspiration to me and so many others today.
Living in a predominantly Black and Brown neighborhood, there weren’t many mental health resources available for Bebe and her family. At first, she was reluctant to speak about the mental health needs of her own family due to stigma in and outside of the Black community. But a mother will do anything for the well-being of her child, and Bebe was no different.
When there weren’t resources immediately accessible to them, she went to affluent, white neighborhoods to learn about her options and brought back resources, such as NAMI’s Family-to-Family courses, for her own community.
What started as advocacy for one, turned to advocacy for so many.
She ended up leading group discussions about mental health in her community. She started prayer groups with other Black moms whose children were struggling with mental health conditions. She wrote books about the barriers to receiving mental health care in communities of color. She founded NAMI Inglewood, which later became NAMI Urban LA. And she started a minority mental health task force that would eventually result in July becoming Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, although she tragically passed away before getting to see the legislation pass.
Bebe Moore exemplifies the kind of leader I want to be: Someone who uses their own story, experience and platform for positive change. Someone who makes everyone they interact with feel valued. And someone who embodies all of our strategic values here at NAMI — fairness, compassion, empowerment, inclusion and hope.
Continuing Her Legacy
Bebe Moore had hope that one day every person — no matter their race, gender, ability or socioeconomic status — would have access to the care they deserve. She had hope that, together, we could ensure no one feels ashamed for seeking mental health treatment.
It’s the hope we must continue to hold onto, and strive toward, now.
The work to develop truly inclusive mental health care won’t be quick, and it has never been easy. But if Bebe taught us anything, it’s that hope will always be greater than any difficulty that comes our way.
That’s why, here at NAMI, we are committed to honoring Bebe’s legacy of working fearlessly and tirelessly to ensure that everyone has access to culturally competent resources. Not just during Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, but every day of every month of every year.
After all, mental health challenges do not discriminate. Neither should our mental health care systems.
Mental Health Resources for Underserved Communities:
Daniel H. Gillison, Jr. is the chief executive officer of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Prior to his work at NAMI, he served as executive director of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF) in addition to several other leadership roles at various large corporations such as Xerox, Nextel, and Sprint. He is passionate about making inclusive, culturally competent mental health resources available to all people, spending time with his family, and of course playing tennis. You can follow him on Twitter at @DanGillison.