NAMI’s Advocacy Agenda: No One Can Do It Alone

FEB. 18, 2015

It’s February and if you are like me, you begin to wonder if winter will ever end.  But deep down, we know that spring will come and we have hope.

I think of this as an analogy for our mental health system. When I travel to state conferences—I just returned from NAMI Arizona’s convention—and listen to our members and callers to the HelpLine, I begin to wonder if the mental health crisis will ever end. One of the keynote speakers in Arizona broke my heart with a story of her college-age son’s death by suicide after a struggle with mental illness. 

Sometimes I wonder if there will ever be a time when people will not desperately seek care, be subject to abuse and stigma, and left to struggle and even die due to their mental illnesses.

At the same time, I talk to members in recovery and see people with mental illness thriving, like one of our young affiliate leaders in northern Arizona, and I have hope. I believe that together we can make a difference and changes in public policy can improve access to needed care and treatment. 

Leadership from the federal government is essential in addressing the overwhelming needs and making needed change. So I want to share with you a brief list of NAMI’s strategic priorities at the federal level. These items represent an ambitious agenda that we’ll be pursuing as 2015 continues to unfold. 

  • Mental health reform. It’s time for Congress to pass comprehensive mental health care reform. We particularly need changes in Medicaid, suicide prevention, support for early-identification of mental health problems, research on first episode psychosis and changes in the criminal justice system.
  • First-episode psychosis. Expanded access to treatment of first-episode psychosis is one of NAMI’s top priorities. We need to increase Medicaid funding for FEP programs and services and the federal government needs to provide technical assistance to states in implementing them so they are widely available.
  • Criminal justice reform. Criminal justice is also at the top of the list. NAMI is working toward nationwide expansion of police crisis intervention teams (CIT) as well as jail diversion programs, better mental health care in prisons and sensible e-entry programs to provide needed treatment and support in communities. We are also working to ensure treatment courts are available to our veterans so they receive care, not punishment for mental health conditions.
  • Increased federal funding. Resources are needed in so many areas. NAMI supports increased federal funding of medical research by the National Institute of Mental Health, block grant dollars for mental health services and supportive housing and programs for homeless persons.
  • Protect Medicaid funding. NAMI is also vigilant in seeking to protect federal funding of Medicaid. That includes opposition to state spending “caps” or block grants to states that inevitably serve to limit mental health care.
  • Protect Medicare Part D. One size does not fit all and NAMI continues to remain vigilant in protecting access to psychiatric medications under the Medicare Part D program—around which a major victory was won last year.
  • Protect SSDI. Income support is critical.  NAMI will be resolute in protecting the Social Security Disability Insurance program and combatting stereotypes and discrimination directed against people with mental illnesses who are receiving benefits.
  • Regulate restraint and seclusion. NAMI also is calling for passage of the Keeping All Students Safe Act to restrict the use of restraints and seclusion in schools.

Some of these issues may sound abstract or complex, but they are issues that greatly affect the lives of real people. No one person can take them on alone. That’s one of the reasons why NAMI is here and why we are working to build a broader movement for the future.

If you are interested in helping to advance this agenda, please sign up to receive our Legislative Alerts and Advocacy Updates.  Your voice makes a difference and I am very grateful to each and every one of you who has ever sent a letter, drafted an email, or made a call or visit to an elected official at any level of government for NAMI. Thank you so much!

As always, I’m interested in hearing your own thoughts and ideas. Please feel free to send them to me at I can’t reply to every message, but please be assured that I read every one. Thank you for your support as we look forward to spring. Together we can bring help and hope.



MAR, 01, 2015 10:07:32 AM
Gayle Schurig
I agree with these goals for advocacy and am happy to walk for the third year for NAMI of Greater Orlando. Florida happens to be only 49th in the list of spending on mental health. The system is broken and we need a bill such as the Helping Families in Crisis Act (sponsored by Rep. Murphy). A lot of work needs to be done in all areas...homeless, housing, seriously mentally ill, early diagnoses, and education to end stigma and get treatment towards recovery.

FEB, 28, 2015 11:04:37 AM
On May 15, 2013, and for three days prior, I had a nervous breakdown. I simply "snapped." It was a long time coming. My daughter called my psychiatrist. She ordered a screener to my house which, of course, required the police to accompany her. She stated I was not aggressive, although somewhat agitated. When the Sargeant arrived, my mental health situation was twisted into a crime scene, and on his face I saw a look I will never forget, that of cruel contempt. I was body slammed to the kitchen floor and my wrists were zip tied. He then yanked the end like the starter on an old lawn mower and the razor-sharp plastic sunk into my wrist like a hot knife through butter. I blacked out in what my doctor said was a fugue state and awoke naked from the waist down at the front door. The cop was standing over me with his face suffused with lust and his eyes piercingly bright. His sexual arousal was not over my middle-aged body; he was in lust for power. He told me to put my pajama bottoms on or I'd be taken as is. I knew he wanted to watch me suffer. He wanted me to beg, plead and ideally cry and I would not give him that. His face became angry and he left the house.

Outside were three Spring Lake Heights officers: the Chief, the detective, and a patrolman. Despite the manpower available to handle a 54-year old woman with a broken foot (an injury that happened the day before from tripping up the stairs,) the Sergeant from the neighboring municipality of Spring Lake was called to participate in my removal from my own house. The reason given for not calling our well-funded and skilled emt's was that "I was a danger to mere volunteers." The Sergeant was observed by neighbors walking aimlessly around my front lawn with my teal pajama bottoms slung over his shoulder.

The Sergeant and Patrolman from SLH reentered my house, along with the Spring Lake Sergeant and carried me out naked and facedown in front of my neighbors. I was made to sit on the filthy back seat of the patrol car. I was physically assaulted, dehumanized and scapegoated, which are the tactics of evil regimes like the Nazis.

What happened afterwards was the third degree of psychological torture. Although I won my civil suit and this was the third police brutality strike against Sergeant Gunnell, he received no punishment at all. He was free to act once again with impunity and I am frightened in my own home.

My deposition was shared with neighbors and friends of the Borough Council and two days after winning my civil suit on August 19, 2014, an article appeared in August 22, 2014 issue of the The Coast Star, our local paper on the Jersey Shore lauding Sergeant Gunnell and Patrolman Ventrimiglia for helping an elderly woman in her home. The contributors of the article were Chief David Petriken of the SLH pd and Councilwoman Sara King, the DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC SAFETY!

FEB, 27, 2015 07:39:38 PM
Diana Hollingsworth
Dealing currently with son's unstable status and hoping to find a way to contact Ms. Smith who left message here on 2/20/15 at 6:04:52 regarding what program she refers to in NC serving young people there under private insurance? Thank you.

FEB, 24, 2015 12:23:17 PM
Sherry Belfield
I strongly agree on all of these strategic priorities that NAMI will, does pursue. I believe that these priorities have and will always be a fight, and struggle, to achieve. I think NAMI IOOV is a strong and positive force. I am a NAMI IOOV Presenter. If mental illness is talked about by those who've experienced the journey, and living in their own recovery, to those who may not quite understand the full scope of mental illness, it can be very powerful. Most likely, those people have a family member somewhere down the line, friend, co-worker, or someone they know who has a mental illness. The more mental illness is talked about in person, seen and heard from a real mentally ill participant in recovery, the more everyone will begin to welcome us with gentleness. They will begin to understand and overcome their fear. The stigma will begin to fade. Legislation will change. Caretakers, and families will begin to understand better, and start to heal. Talking about mental illness is nothing to fear or shy away from. Helping and supporting one another is key. I think it's important for education, awareness, and eliminating stigma. I feel that no one should be left to die, suffer, or live a life alone due to a mental health system that has let them down in any way. NAMI working and advocating these issues is a win-win. Always. Never give up hope!

Thank you.
Sherry Belfield
NAMI Colorado, Southeast

FEB, 20, 2015 06:04:52 PM
Bebe Smith
NAMI needs to include expanded coverage for mental health from private insurance. In our early psychosis program in NC, most of the young people we serve have private insurance -- it does not make sense to let the private insurance companies shift the cost to public systems. We don't do that for any other illness. Private insurance pays for a hodgepodge of services, and often doesn't pay for the intensive, multidisciplinary treatment that is beneficial in early psychosis care. Medicare also does not pay for enhanced mental health services.

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