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The National Dialogue: NAMI Minnesota Talks with President Obama

President Barack Obama greets Sue Abderholden, Executive Director, National
Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)

By Bob Carolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations

In the White House’s Now is the Time plan on gun violence, released  last month, President Obama included a provision for a national dialogue about mental illness.

The official dialogue is expected to be launched in the spring in ten cities, but dialogue in many communities has already begun.

On Feb. 11, the President visited Minneapolis where he met with a small group that included the U.S. attorney general, the mayor,  the governor, the state’s two U.S. Senators—and NAMI Minnesota executive director, Sue Abderholden.  Before the meeting, NAMI also held a press conference at the state capitol to build support for a dozen bills that were being introduced to improve mental health care for children.  

“The attorney general was there before the president and talked about gun control, the need for mental health services and how most people with mental illnesses aren't violent and we need to be careful to not stigmatize people,” Abderholden reported.

“When it was my turn, I thanked him for saying that and then talked about school-linked mental health services and the need for intensive treatment for first episodes.”

About one-half hour later the president arrived and shook everyone’s hand. The mayor directed the conversation.  Abderholden was one of the last ones to speak.

President Obama meets with local leaders on how
to reduce gun violence in Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4,
2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)

“I told him that in 1961 President Kennedy challenged our nation to go to the moon and eight years later we did. On Feb. 5, 1963 he challenged our country to build a community mental health system and 50 years later we are still waiting.”

“I talked about school linked and the need for clinical services and the discrimination faced by people with mental illness in our private health plans, Medicaid and Medicare.” She also emphasized again the need for intensive treatment of first episodes.

Abderholden thanked the president for his efforts to increase the number of mental health professionals but pointed out that by NAMI Minnesota’s calculations they would mean only 85 new people for the entire state. Much more are needed.

“It was very thrilling and I was so pleased and excited to be a part of it, Abderholden admitted afterwards. The impact of the meeting should not be underestimated. NAMI commanded the president’s attention. He heard NAMI’s concerns –just as did the White House task force that produced the gun violence plan incorporated several  NAMI recommendations.

The same principle applies to NAMI advocates in every state who will be meeting with mayors, governors, legislators and other elected officials—as well as with school administrators, teachers and parent-teacher associations in months ahead.

It’s all part of the national dialogue that has already begun.

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