May 28, 2024

Statement from Dan Gillison, NAMI CEO on the passing of one of NAMI’s early champions

NAMI mourns the passing of Dr. Herbert Pardes, a key figure in the creation of NAMI. His influence and contributions were instrumental in shaping the landscape of mental health advocacy and support in our country.

Dr. Pardes’ connection with NAMI dates back to its inception, notably marked by his attendance at the historic national conference in 1979 where NAMI was established. His presence and support played a critical role in shaping NAMI into a national organization committed to enhancing the lives of individuals and families impacted by mental illness.

Even while serving in significant roles within presidential administrations, including Director of the National Institute of Mental Health and U.S. Assistant Surgeon General, Dr. Pardes continued to generously share his time and expertise with NAMI.

In an interview with the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, an organization he helped create, he spoke about how NAMI was founded:

“Other citizen groups had been working for years on behalf of people with other illnesses, including muscular dystrophy, cancer, and heart disease. There were no similarly powerful advocacy groups at that time for people with mental illness. Why? Well, most patients with severe mental illnesses aren’t able to advocate, either because of incapacity or a fear of being stigmatized. At the same time, most people who don’t suffer from a psychiatric illness figure they will never suffer from one–an attitude very few reasonable people have about cancer or heart disease, for instance. So I felt the time was ripe for a partnership between people in the psychiatric profession and the public. I also thought we could make a serious dent in stigma by bringing families into the picture on a national scale. The group that emerged from that 1979 gathering in Madison did precisely that. It was called the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, or NAMI. It continues to this day to be a highly influential citizens’ group on psychiatric illness.”

Throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Pardes exemplified extraordinary leadership, compassion, and innovation. We are forever grateful for his contributions to NAMI and the field of mental health. His legacy will serve as a beacon, inspiring future generations of advocates and reminding us of the profound impact that one individual can have on the lives of so many.

To read more about the incredible work of Dr. Pardes, click here.

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).