NAMI’S Future: Dr. James Hayes: “Her family got to plan a graduation and not a funeral!”

(7-7-17) When I closed my eyes during James Hayes speech at the NAMI convention, I was whisked back to the days when I was a child and my family used to attend church revivals in Oklahoma. His speech, the last in this week-long series, was delivered with the enthusiasm of a evangelical preacher. I was not surprised when he was re-elected to another term on the board because his passion for NAMI came through loud and clear.  

Dr. JAMES HAYES – NAMI Is Filled With Everyday Heroes

It is hard for a boy from South Carolina to do a 5 minute speech in less than 12 minutes but I’ll try. dr hayes

We know about mental illness as we have 4 adult children, 3 of whom live with serious mental illness and 2 wonderful grandchildren who live with autism.

We know mental illness across the ages! NAMI has been a life saver for us.

We know about serious mental illness because we live with it every day!

I am a retired Pediatric Oncologist and when I started in 1972, 30% of children with cancer survived. Now in 2017, 92% survive.

We can do that in mental illness!

We all worked together, we did research, and we involved families! What a novel idea-involving families!

Look, we come to Washington to see Heroes, there are thousands at Arlington Cemetery, there’s Memorials to Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, Martin Luther King, the war Memorials, but I maintain there is a hero in every seat in this room.

People who live with Mental illnesses and the people who love them are all heroes. They get up every day and help others.

We are all about helping each other!

I want to talk about some real live heroes. Betsey O’Brien is our state trainer. She was recently asked to help present a NAMI Ending the Silence program at a large high school near the Coast. She said there were around 700 students there and you could hear a pin drop after the presentation started. Later that day as she was driving back to Columbia her phone rang and it was a Guidance Counselor from that school.

A girl had decided to end her life that day after school and had brought everything she needed to do that and left it in her car. But she got Hope that day!

She reached out for Help because she had Hope!

There were two heroes that day: Betsey and that little girl who had the courage to reach out for Help! Her family got to plan a graduation and not a funeral!

Bill Lindsey is Executive Director of NAMI SC. He got carjacked and robbed at gunpoint on a Wednesday but conducted our state board meeting the next day. I asked him why he didn’t take a few days off and he said “NAMI’s work has got to go on”

Ken Dority is Executive Director of NAMI Greenville SC and he left the finance industry to run our affiliate, making much less money.

Most people who work for NAMI work like volunteers anyway, including our National staff. Ken took us from a floundering affiliate to a vigorous, growing organization. We raised $100,000 in our recent walk. Ken invited two other small affiliates from nearby who are too small to have their own walk to join us.

My other hero is my wife, Glenda, who has been frustrated by the lack of postmortem brain tissue being donated for research. She and I and a legislator friend worked to change the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act to include brain tissue for research and education. When our SC state senate shot the bill down, she turned to our Organ donor organization Donate Life and they are going to start a campaign this summer to encourage registered organ donors to be brain donors, then this campaign will roll out nationwide later this year.

We are convinced research is going to find answers soon so keep hoping.

I want to quote from Admiral William McRaven’s excellent book Make Your Bed:  “Hope is the most powerful force in the Universe. With Hope you can inspire nations to greatness…raise the downtrodden…ease the pain of unbearable loss. Sometime all it takes is one person to make a difference”

Keep hoping NAMI!

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.