June 17, 2016

By Happy Carlock


Knowledge is power.

Yet there remains a shortage of knowledge about mental illness and its impact on individuals and families across the country. As NAMI CEO Mary Giliberti told an audience at the White House on June 7, one of NAMI’s primary goals is to empower people with knowledge about mental health.

Giliberti spoke on a panel of mental health experts as part of the White House’s five-part series entitled “Making Health Care Better.” The series highlights improvements in the country’s health system over the past seven years. Mental health is making its way to the forefront of that movement.

The panel focused on access to care and changing the culture surrounding mental health, highlighting experiences of individuals, families and caregivers. As Giliberti pointed out, one of the greatest challenges faced by Americans living with mental illness is navigating the mental health system.

“I take our HelpLine calls. One of the questions I always have to ask them is: ‘Do you need care in your insurance network?’” she said. “I promise you, the CEO of the American Heart Association is not asking [can you find] in-network care for cardiac care.”

Justice and equality are two issues also in the national conversation. Around 2 million Americans with mental illness reside in our jails each year (according to a 2013 study), which is more than double the population of D.C.

“I can’t think of a greater injustice for people than to be locked up because you can’t get care,” she said.

That is why organizations like NAMI are working to ensure mental health services and supports are available to all Americans, especially the unreached and underserved.

D.C. isn’t the only hub of power holders where conversations about mental health are gaining traction.

Under the leadership of co-president Barbara Ricci, NAMI New York City Metro is working to raise mental health awareness in the workplace. Ricci also spoke on the White House panel, challenging business leaders to break the silence at work surrounding mental health.

Ricci has led two CEO summits on mental health in the workplace and has assisted in compiling a toolkit for business leaders that aims to achieve mental health parity, build a culture of wellbeing and educate business leaders about the importance of their employees’ mental health.

“We need to normalize conversations about mental health in the workplace so that people realize they’re not alone,” Ricci said. “Talking about mental health sends a powerful message that it’s ok to get help.”

Ricci has experienced the stigma of mental illness at her own job on Wall Street. Twenty-five years ago, her brother had a serious episode of psychosis, and she had to miss work to help him find care. “Back then, no one ever talked about mental health in the workplace,” Ricci said. “Fast forward to 2016, and mental health is a business issue.”

There are 200 million missed work days a year due to depression. Depression treatment is effective 80% of the time, but only about one-third of Americans actively seek treatment for fear of repercussions at work and an inability to access care, Ricci said.

Other panelists at the event included Barbara Van Dahlen, Founder of Give an Hour; Bob Filbin, Crisis Text Line Chief Data Scientist; Linda Rosenberg, President and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health; Allen Doederlein, President of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance; and Debbie Plotnick, Vice President for Mental Health and Systems Advocacy at Mental Health America.

The more Americans that start the conversation about mental health in the workplace, in politics and in the criminal justice community, the more knowledge transforms into power. And it’s that power—the power of one voice—that gets individuals the help they need.

Find more information on the White House 2016 Making Health Care Better report here.


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