NAMI Announces Global Partnership Initiative

Latino Leadership Symposium Also Emphasizes Multicultural Challenge of Mental Illness

Jun 25 2002

Cincinnati, OH - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the nation's largest organization dedicated to improving life for people with severe mental illnesses and their families, today announced a landmark Global Partnership Initiative (GPI) pairing four NAMI state organizations with similar advocacy groups on three continents-in Brazil, Japan, South Africa and Taiwan.

The announcement was made as NAMI began preliminary meetings in Cincinnati, Ohio, where it is holding its 23rd annual convention, "Building Communities of Hope," on June 26-30. NAMI also today convened a Latino Leadership Symposium, which brought together more than 100 leaders from 15 Latino mental health and civil rights organizations from around the nation to discuss outreach to the growing Latino community on critical issues.

"The experience of mental illness is universal," said NAMI national board President Jim McNulty at the symposium. "Mental illness occurs in every society and every culture. Stigma, discrimination, and ignorance know no boundaries."

"It doesn't matter whether it's Cleveland and Cincinnati, Tokyo and Kyoto, or Cuzco and Rio De Janeiro. The challenge is real and it's here-now. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that major depression is the third leading cause of disability across the globe. In the United States, one out of every five Americans will be affected by severe mental illness in their lifetime."

"NAMI's Global Partnership Initiative seeks to build a worldwide community of hope-a community that recognizes mental illnesses as real and treatable. Universally, for every individual, in every racial and ethnic community, the hope for recovery also must be made real."

The GPI is structured as an international exchange program intended to strengthen community-based, grassroots education and advocacy among individuals with mental illnesses, families and local professionals. Its elements include local partnering, informational materials, electronic networking, and technical assistance. Representatives from the four partnered countries will attend NAMI's convention this week.

The paired GPI organizations are:

  • NAMI Connecticut and APOIAR ("Support") of Brazil
  • NAMI Montgomery County (Maryland) with "Zenkaren" of Japan)
  • NAMI Oklahoma and the Depression & Anxiety Support Group of South Africa
  • NAMI Texas with the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Taiwan

"The partnerships flow both ways," said Darlene Nipper, director of NAMI's Multicultural and International Outreach (MIO) Center, which coordinated the program and organized the symposium. "We face common problems. Our goal is to exchange information and learn from our differences. Ultimately, what we learn also can be applied to within different communities here at home."

Similar themes were voiced at NAMI's Latino Leadership Symposium.

"We all come from ancestral backgrounds that speak to our heritage," said NAMI national board member Fred Sandoval of New Mexico, who on April 29th joined President Bush in announcing the New Freedom Presidential Commission that is developing recommendations for reform of the nation's fragmented and budget-starved mental health care system. "Irish, German, Italian, Swedish, African, Asian, Latino. We all have to interact in ways our ancestors never expected."

He noted the importance of "reciprocity" as a cultural value, in which one person or community helps another.

"We need to take care of one another," said Ambrosio Rodriguez, president of the Latino Behavioral Health Association.

In 1992, Latinos represented more than 12% of the nation's population, and they will become the largest single minority group by 2050. At the same time, Latinos themselves are a diverse community: the ancestors of some Latinos go back more than 400 years, before Columbus, while others are recent immigrants. Some came to escape severe poverty; others political oppression. They have different levels of education and skills, points of view, and expectations.

"When we talk about treatment we have to start with the individual-and recognize those differences," Rodriguez said. "The most significant voice we can have is when people with mental illnesses and their families stand up and advocate for themselves."

NAMI's Global Partnership Initiative is being funded with a grant from the Pfizer Foundation. Eli Lilly & Company and Janssen Pharmaceutica sponsored the Latino Leadership Symposium.

The NAMI MIO Center was founded earlier this year to address concerns raised in the U.S. Surgeon General's "Report on Mental Health: Race, Culture and Ethnicity" by focusing on for key goals:

  • To increase involvement of racial and ethnic minorities in the mental health care system.
  • To develop "culturally competent" models of service and support to eliminate barriers to treatment and recovery
  • To eliminate prejudice and stigma through public education
  • To expand participation of racial and ethnic communities in the development and implementation of policy initiatives.

"We are building a multicultural network to help consumers and families in diverse communities," Nipper said. "The Center seeks to address issues such as the overdiagnosis of some disorders based on race, histories of state repression. overlays of poverty, and cultural stigma that discourages people from seeking help."

"The bottom line is that we all need to be helping each other."