NAMI’S Future: Adrienne Kennedy – Fixing Communication Gaps


Thank you Senator Cornyn for mentioning my book and me in your remarks at NAMI’s convention

(7-3-17) NAMI’s national convention always is inspiring and educational and this year’s certainly set a high bar last week in Washington D.C.. 

I was especially grateful to see my friend, Mark Gale, received the Sam Cochran Criminal Justice Award, for his tireless efforts to improve how the criminal justice system interacts in California with individuals with mental illnesses. Mark and I first met when my book first was published in 2007 as two dads seeking answers and I have enjoyed watching him become a powerful advocate for Crisis Intervention Team training and justice reforms in California.

It’s always wonderful to see good friends and fellow advocates at the convention, especially Dr. Fred Frese and Penny, who have done so much for our cause. Hats off to NAMI CEO Mary Giliberti and especially Ron Honberg whom I believe oversaw at least three or four workshops each day.

I also appreciated getting a complimentary shout out from U.S. Senator John Cornyn during his Thursday morning convention appearance. He was kind enough to mentioned how my book helped him better understand the need to end the inappropriate incarceration of individuals with mental illnesses. Ironically, I was not in the audience because I was working behind the scenes hoping to persuade Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to stop the execution this coming Thursday night of a condemned man with a severe mental illness. 

Although the election of  five new board members is over, this year’s candidate’s speeches were especially exceptional so I’ve decided to post one per day this week to give those of you who couldn’t attend a chance to read them. First up is Adrienne Kennedy from Texas, who was re-elected to the board, and is someone whom I greatly admire.) 

Adrienne Kennedy

When I found NAMI in 2005, our son and our family had logged 6 years coping with serious mental illness: five hospitalizations with three years of recovery sprinkled in between. Great engagement and great doctors: trust, treatment, recovery.

Nonetheless, illness relapse can obliterate years of progress in a sudden catastrophic neural storm: each episode more traumatic than the last. Tragically, his anosognosia went from temporary lapse of insight to intractable reality.

In time, every system failed our son.

Our family safety net was simply not enough. Our love, energy, commitment, and –yes, even the NAMI of a decade ago –none of it was enough. Nothing any of us tried could pull our son back to safety. Ultimately, when the dangers he presented finally crossed into extremes, well-trained CIT officers contained the situation without harm to anyone.

In 2008, our son with serious illness, now became our son with state and federal felony charges, being held on a $185,000 bond.

A broken system and a broken brain are a terrible combination!

You all can imagine the years between 2008 to the present. As NAMI teaches: ALL mental Illness requires courage and heroism each day, plus empathy and coping skills to meet the losses along the way.

Our son died last October at the age of 41 –from the daunting complexities of managing insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetes in the absence of psychiatric care, refused treatment and total anosognosia. He became another number added to the shameful statistic that those with serious mental illness experience a 10-to-20-year reduction in life expectancy.

These three years have been full of NAMI accomplishments: nexus of activity, brand recognition and remarkable successes. Each election, each year, is an opportunity to examine where we stand.

Strong, important issues are at the HEART of who NAMI is, what we believe, and the goals and commitments we have to keep. Today I’ll share my priorities and what you can count on from me in the next 3 years.

Face to face, I’d like to tell you how I see NAMI, what fuels my passion and what, I believe, are best steps forward.

NAMI is both a very personal and a very public endeavor, as we work tirelessly for and with each other while, at the same time, we work tirelessly to educate and focus public will and to shape public action.

You and I live in both worlds: personal passion, public voice –to drive Right Action for our Cause and to achieve a Dominate Place in Public Dialogue. And we definitely are on the trajectory aimed at both of these.

Decades of our son’s illness confirm for me the wisdom of the path NAMI is carving for itself:  promoting broad awareness, hope and recovery; plus invitations for young adults to reach into NAMI, offering videos and social media access, emphasizing early education/early referrals, early intervention for first episode psychosis, promoting policies for engagement, advocating for legislation, funding, parity, research, and criminal justice reforms. Desperately needed!

How very different our son’s experience would have been in the environment for young adults that NAMI Is creating today.

NAMI’s failing is not in abandoning or neglecting to advocate for those with serious mental illness. OUR failing is in not adequately communicating both the steady efforts and the many solid successes. We will fix this communication gap.

Already on tap are smart organizational refinements, data integration and management strategies, alignment practices, and revenue-sharing pilots that I will strongly support.

We must continue to champion strong positions to address the needs of those with serious mental illness while, at the same time, advancing public awareness, strong partnerships and wide connectivity in mental health.

We must continue to stretch mental health/mental illness activism to serve all our constituents and to garner broad public interest: a Wide Road that advances community understanding, strengthens community will, ignites community action.

We must engage and defend the Wide Road: in education, support, advocacy, research, recovery, and in the wide range of treatment options, as well as in setting organizational priorities.

Over the next 3 years, I pledge to help NAMI build a Movement of Excellence about mental health as Everyone’s Issue and Mental Illness as Everyone’s Obligation to Address: both genuine measures of our humanity.


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.