Mary Zdanowicz

ZdanowiczUse these links to go to specific areas of the profile:
Candidate speech
Experience with mental illness
Skills, knowledge and experience relative to the NAMI Strategic Plan:
Driver 1: Build a Movement
Driver 2: Leverage Technology
Driver 3: Drive Advocacy
Driver 4: Focus on Youth
Driver 5: Strengthen the Organization
Employment and other affiliations
Candidate statement in the Advocate
Letter of Nomination

Nominated by NAMI Cape Cod & the Islands (Massachusetts)

Member, NAMI Cape Cod & the Islands (MA)

Listen to Mary's speech here.

My brother and sister were diagnosed with schizophrenia twenty-five years ago. Both are gravely disabled and need me as their guardian, advocate and friend. The services they need, such as 24-hour residences and continuing care hospitals, are disappearing. I worry about what will happen to them when I am gone.

Please describe how your skills, knowledge and experience will contribute to the NAMI Board of Directors role in delivering on the strategic plan. Using no more than 300 words per driver, respond to each of the five drivers in the 2015-2019 NAMI Strategic Plan.

Driver 1: Build A Movement - NAMI will broaden public awareness and inclusion in every part of the alliance.

My goal is to help rebuild the NAMI Movement, as Dr. E. Fuller Torrey describes it in Surviving Schizophrenia:

“Effective public leadership for individuals with schizophrenia and other serious mental illness had to await the birth of NAMI. The roots of NAMI go back to 1976, when Dr. Richard Lamb, then working in San Mateo County, California, assisted some local families in organizing advocacy efforts to improve county services for their family members with schizophrenia. In 1978 this group published an article, “Schizophrenia Through the Eyes of Families,” in a national psychiatric journal.”

The authors of the “Through the Eyes of Families” article contended that families of individuals with schizophrenia have received too little help from the mental health system, even though in many cases families are the primary care givers. Forty years later, it is reported that as many as 25% of adults with serious mental illnesses live with their families, who need NAMI more than ever.

Using my experience as a guardian, sibling and NAMI advocate, I will support the “Strengthen Our Voice as a Unified Organization” strategic plan goal by ensuring that the voices of the families of individuals with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses are heard and supported.

Driver 2: Leverage Technology - NAMI will expand use of technology to build capacity and connection.

Social media is a valuable technology for building connections between people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to engage in dialogue. The most illuminating conversation that I had began with a question I posed on Facebook about what services peer run programs provide for people with serious mental illnesses.

“We host multiple Hearing Voices groups every week, and several of the people who attend (and facilitate) are people who've been diagnosed with schizophrenia and/or experienced many hospitalizations, are dealing with terrifying and directive voices (although to be clear, not all voices are negative), etc.”

I asked what they did if a person’s voice was directing him to hurt himself or someone else?

“One person shared he was often hearing a voice telling him to kill his mother. He did not kill his mother. Through exploration in the group, what he learned from that was that the voice was warning him to protect himself from his mother (there had been a history of trauma there).”

I found the example troubling and asked if they warned the mother.

"If we routinely notified people every time (or even somewhat regularly) someone came to a group talking about a voice that was saying something scary or that involved another person, we know for a fact that many (if not most) people would stop coming to the group and sharing that sort of information.”

It turns out that “Hearing Voices” facilitators need no certification and there is no clinical oversight.

It was a troubling view into the world of government-funded programs that do not support the traditional mental health system. It was a thoughtful discussion on Facebook that lasted two days with participation from nearly a dozen people with different opinions.

Driver 3: Drive Advocacy - NAMI will lead advocacy efforts that drive increased access and quality.

It is imperative that NAMI advocate for accountability in community services. One of many benefits of court monitored community services, Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), is that providers of community treatment are held accountable to both the individual and the court. At the Treatment Advocacy Center, we used to say that one of the most important features of AOT is that it commits the community mental health system to providing treatment and services to individuals with the most severe mental illnesses.

NAMI must advocate for more continuing care psychiatric hospital beds. The short-term, acute-care psychiatric beds that have replaced state hospitals cannot adequately serve patients who need sustained care, from a team of treatment and rehabilitative professionals, in order to become well enough to live safely and successfully in the community.

Driver 4: Focus on Youth - NAMI will develop and implement strategies that engage youth, young adults and their families, expanding our reach across the lifespan.

The research shows that early treatment interventions for people experiencing their first episode of psychosis is predictive of a more successful health outcome.

But the need for research, advocacy and support extends to adults of all ages. It is important to keep in mind that there are many aging individuals who did not have the benefit of early treatment. In too many cases, these individuals are homeless, addicted to alcohol or drugs or have dangerous behaviors. Many are isolated and alone. Others are dependent upon aging parents who worry about what will happen to their child when they are gone.

Too many adults with mental illnesses do not get the healthcare that they need. As a result, they often have serious medical conditions, such as diabetes, that go untreated. Integrated healthcare is an important issue for people of all ages who suffer from serious mental illnesses.

Driver 5: Strengthen the Organization - NAMI will grow and develop financing, infrastructure and capacity that support a vibrant and bold organization.

For more than fifteen years, I served as an Executive Director for national non-profit organizations. I was responsible for preparing annual budgets and operating within budget parameters. I was also responsible for fundraising.

As an Executive Director, I learned that it is critical to only pursue sources of funding that advance the organization’s mission, rather than chasing money and abandoning core values.

When I was Executive Director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, the families who were affected by untreated mental illnesses were our greatest source of financial support. Cultivating relationships with individuals who support the organization’s mission is imperative.

NAMI should stop taking money from pharmaceutical companies. It hurts the organization’s credibility. When I was the Executive Director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, the Board of Directors made the affirmative decision that it would undermine our mission if we accepted money from the pharmaceutical industry.

NAMI should not pursue money from SAMHSA for programs that in any way subvert the importance of medical treatment for individuals with mental illnesses.

As a Board Member, I will apply years of experience in advocacy and fundraising to strengthen NAMI’s commitment to adults with serious mental illnesses and their families.

Job Title or Position: Attorney

Employer: Law Office of Mary T Zdanowicz

NAMI Affiliations: Consultant (paid), NAMI Cape Cod & the Islands

Candidate Statement as Published in the NAMI Advocate

My brother and sister were diagnosed with schizophrenia twenty-five years ago. Both are gravely disabled and need me as their guardian, advocate and friend. The services they need, such as 24-hour residences and continuing care hospitals, are disappearing. I worry about what will happen to them when I am gone.

I am an attorney running on the 'Focus on Serious Mental Illness' ticket with DJ Jaffe, Lauren Rettaglia and Rob Laitman.

In 1978, two NAMI leaders wrote:

“It is essential that family organizations maintain their separate identities and not become part of the mental health establishment.”

NAMI did not heed the warning. NAMI’s focus on mainstream mental health issues has left the families of adults with serious mental illnesses without the support they need. I have been a member of NAMI for two decades in affiliates in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts. In 1998, I worked with Dr. E. Fuller Torrey and DJ Jaffe to found the Treatment Advocacy Center and worked closely with NAMI families around the country as TAC’s Executive Director from 1998 to 2007.

Years of anti-stigma campaigns have not changed the public perception of serious mental illness. Funding and support for services, such as PACT and Assisted Outpatient Treatment, that provide timely and effective treatment, are key to reducing the behaviors the public fears, such as homelessness, incarceration and violence. Treatment is the best remedy for stigma.

NAMI should be monitoring the proliferation of government-funded groups that perpetuate anti-psychiatry and antimedication philosophies under the guise of civil rights. NAMI should counter litigation by Bazelon, Disability Rights and other groups that result in hospital bed closures and “scattered-site” housing, which imposes arbitrary caps on the number people who can live in the same vicinity. It is a discriminatory practice that causes people with serious mental illnesses to become isolated.

Read Mary Zdanowicz's nomination letter [pdf]