NAMI Convention Inspires: We Need To Get Furious


Personal reasons kept me from attending this year’s National Alliance on Mental Illness convention in Washington D.C. except for a reception on Saturday night, one of the final events.

I was told by several attendees that Demi Lovato’s appearance during the opening night session was one of the convention highlights. The singer, television star, and writer not only talked frankly and openly about her bipolar disorder and addictions but also spent the next day on Capitol Hill speaking  to key congressional representatives. 

I want to show the world that there is life — surprising, wonderful, unexpected life — after diagnosis.

Bravo Ms. Lovato!

Representative Tim Murphy got three ovations when he spoke opening night about his Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act. Earlier, there was some grumbling because the  Pennsylvania Republican had not been on the schedule but was extended a last minute invitation after he asked to speak. 

I was fortunate enough to bump into Dr. Joyce Burland, the author of NAMI’s  Family to Family course, which is one of the best programs that NAMI offers the public. She helped found NAMI Vermont in 1989 and has returned for another stint on the NAMI board.

“We need to get FURIOUS!” she told me. Dr. Burland said the time for talking and lamenting about poor mental care is over. It is time for us to get angry and demand action.

NAMI’s new director Mary Giliberti spoke briefly at the reception, saying that she never wanted to hear NAMI referred to again as one of our nation’s best kept secrets. She revealed that she periodically leaves the executive director’s office to answer the NAMI hotline as a reminder of why NAMI’s advocacy  is necessary.  She drew a laugh when she said one caller asked if she could make sure that the people at the top of  NAMI heard what he had to say. He didn’t know he was talking to  its director.  She assured  him that she could do that. 

After her brief remarks, several NAMI members near me said they hoped NAMI would take the lead in forging a compromise between stalemated House Republicans and Democrats who have locked horns over Rep. Murphy’s bill and an alternative called the Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act.  It was introduced by Arizona Representative Ron Barber at the urging of the House Democratic leadership.

Andrew Sperling, NAMI’s director of federal legislation, has been working behind the scenes to help  draft legislation, but it’s been a difficult task because NAMI’s membership itself is sharply divided.  

Talking about the need for compromise is much easier than actually achieving one.



About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.