This Weekend’s Sites Include New Hampshire

May 15 2003

Presidential Candidates Will Need To Address Mental Illness Concerns In 2004

Arlington, VA - As the third weekend of "NAMIWALKS for the Mind of America" begins, the final report and recommendations of President Bush’s "New Freedom" Commission on Mental Health  are expected soon.

Democratic presidential candidates have announced health care reform proposals, but none to date have specifically addressed the crisis of the nation’s mental health care system in any comprehensive way.  In looking ahead to 2004, they may want to note that New Hampshire is one of five states where thousands of Americans will be walking on May 18 to support research, education and advocacy to improve the lives of people with mental illnesses.

Other May 18 walks will occur in New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Oregon. On May 24, Louisiana will host the final leg of NAMIWALKS for 2003—which thus far has raised almost $1 million for state and local affiliates of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). Walks also were held in Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland and Missouri as part of the first-ever, nationally-coordinated walkathon effort.

In April 2002, in establishing the New Freedom Commission to propose reforms in the nation’s mental healthcare system, President Bush declared: "Our country must make a commitment. Americans with mental illness deserve our understanding, and they deserve excellent care. They deserve a health care system that treats their illness with the same urgency as a physical illness."

President Bush also pledged last year to work to enact a new federal mental health parity law to govern health insurance plans—which leaders in the House of Representatives blocked in 2001. But in public service announcements for Louisiana’s NAMIWALK, U.S. Senator John Breaux (D-LA) has helped to emphasize that mental health is an issue that cuts across party lines.

"Look at your family. Look carefully at your spouse, and at each one of your children," Breaux said in radio spots encouraging constituents to join NAMI’s campaign. "It’s almost certain that at some time in your life, someone dear to you will suffer from mental illness. In fact, 25% of all Americans will suffer mental illness at some point in their lives. Help prevent that pain from happening."

New Hampshire’s NAMIWALKS will feature music performed by popular New England musician and mental health advocate Michael Skinner, including "Walk With Me" from his Train of Tears album and songs from his latest album,Pirates.

"We hope that every American—not just presidential candidates—will hear the message echoing from New Hampshire and other states," said Joleen Bagwell, NAMI’s national development director. "We want to change the way people think about mental illness. Michael Skinner’s lyrics send a powerful message against stigma and discrimination:                                   

When you look at me, what do you see
Have you judged me by the lack of a smile
But come with me, step into my shoes
Can you walk with me for one mile
Then perhaps you’d see another part of me
I’m also a man who likes to sing
I too have hopes, hopes and dreams
To be more than what you labeled me.

"The challenge of building a New Freedom for people with mental illnesses and their families is a challenge that affects all of us," Bagwell said. "We are grateful for the immense support NAMIWALKS have received in our pilot communities. Stay tuned. There will be more to come."