By Mary Giliberti, J.D.
As I’ve been thinking about the upcoming NAMI National Convention, I wanted to share some reflections with all of you on advocacy—recognizing that not everyone will be able to attend at the end of June. Advocacy has always been at the core of NAMI’s mission. It was a passion of NAMI’s founders and remains so today. Why? Because advocacy is one of the best ways we can address the systematic injustices and disparities that people with mental illness and their families face every day.
I see these injustices firsthand across the nation. One of the most important responsibilities of my job as NAMI’s CEO is attending state NAMI conventions with our members and visiting places where people with mental illness are—such as the Cook County jail in Chicago, homeless shelters in San Francisco and early psychosis programs in Boston. I also talk with our members and staff after tragedies happen in their families because of mental illness, including suicide.
Like you, I am pained by our nation’s mental health crisis and how it affects the people I work with and serve. But I take some comfort in knowing that NAMI advocates work tirelessly to advance research, mitigate the tragic consequences that stem from lack of services and promote programs that offer promise and hope to future generations.
The power of NAMI’s advocacy is not in having a large team of lobbyists or a political action fund. In fact, we have neither. NAMI’s advocacy power comes from being a nonpartisan organization with passionate grassroots members who are willing to speak up, each with a different story, on behalf of people who live with mental illness—particularly those with the most serious conditions.
Advocacy has never been more important than it is today, as Congress considers an unprecedented assault on Medicaid, the backbone of services for people with the most serious mental illnesses. That’s why the location of our National Convention this year is so important: Washington, D.C.
NAMI will be unleashing the power of more than 1,000 NAMI advocates—a record number—to go to Capitol Hill and let their elected officials know that we need more research, more services and more coverage for mental illness, not less.
NAMI is leading the fight, along with colleague organizations, to protect Medicaid and insurance for people with mental illness. And again, our grassroots advocates are stepping up to the plate. This year, advocates across the country helped us send a record number of emails urging members of Congress to protect Medicaid for people with mental illness, including many of our nation’s veterans. With your help, our advocacy will continue to grow and, with it, our ability to fight threats and work for a better future for people with mental illness and their families.
As we head to Capitol Hill, it’s important to remind ourselves that our visits are building on significant policy accomplishments:
NAMI’s advocacy has been instrumental in making this happen. Our work led to a doubling of federal funding for FEP programs. NAMI is working closely with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to strategically expand these research-based programs so every young person experiencing psychosis and his or her family has access to the most effective care. NAMI has been a true catalyst for change: We’ve helped grow early psychosis programs from a handful of programs in four states to 114 programs across nearly every state in just a few years. The research conclusively establishes that while young adults are participating in these programs, they achieve better outcomes in school and work.
During our fight, we were grateful to longstanding champions such as Congressman Tim Murphy and Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. We also found new supporters in the Senate to champion some of these provisions, including Senators John Cornyn and Chris Murphy, who will be speaking at convention. Senator Bill Cassidy, another leading advocate for mental health reforms in the Senate stated: “Without the support of NAMI, who tirelessly worked the hallways of Congress and implemented an impressive grassroots campaign, this legislation would not have been possible.”
The NAMI National Convention is rapidly approaching. I can’t wait to see NAMI members on Capitol Hill, advocating for more research and better services for people with mental illnesses. If you cannot join us in person, join our advocacy virtually. I look forward to working with all of you as we advocate together.
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