Most Impactful Player In Mental Health In 2019: Meet Marianne Kernan


Marianne Kernan is my choice for the year’s Most Impactful Player in Mental Health.

If you live in North Carolina, you know Marianne Kernan because she has been a tour de force in Moore County for years. I am choosing her for her accomplishments but also because she is representative of hundreds of dedicated advocates who quietly and steadily work to improve the lives of their family members and others with mental illnesses.

Like so many other parents, Marianne joined the National Alliance on Mental Illness after her son, Keith, became ill in 1986.  She moved up its ranks in her local chapter, working as a Family-to-Family and Support Group Leader, Fundraising Chair, Treasurer, Vice President and finally President.

After eleven years, she took a risky and dramatic step. Knowing firsthand how difficult it was to find housing for adults with mental illnesses, she founded a non-profit, raised funds, and bought a house that she and her supporters named Linden Lodge.

The Lodge’s 7 bedroom and 3 bath home can house 6 residents and one 24 hour staff member and is located in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Its philosophy is that individuals with serious mental illnesses learn to live life by living it!

Linden Lodge provides its residents with employment opportunities, recreational activities, and physical fitness programs and necessary living skills, such as personal hygiene, grocery shopping, food preparation, housekeeping, budgeting, and time management.  It focuses on helping its residents develop friendships and emphasizes the importance of family relations. It is funded exclusively by fundraisers and contributions from local businesses and families.

In the past, I have chosen well-known figures and organizations as my impact choices:  2014 – Rep. Tim Murphy (R.Pa.), Va. State Senator Creigh Deeds, and philanthropist Ted Stanley; 2015 – The Treatment Advocacy Center; 2016 – U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-Tx.) Chris Murphy )(D-Conn.) and Dr. Bill Cassidy (R-La.); 2017 – Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz and Mary Giliberti; 2018 – Dr. McCance-Katz.

Marianne Kernan and those such as her change lives one-at-a-time often without fanfare. I’ve featured others on my blog: Trudy Harsh, Jennifer Marshal, Laura Pogliano; Lin and Ron Wilensky, Kathleen Maloney, Betsy Greer, G. Douglas Bevelacqua, Sandra Luckow, Elena Broslovsky, Dede Ranahan, Jerri Clark…. the list goes on-and-on.

I’ve visited every state except Hawaii and have been fortunate enough to meet Marianne and others who have come up with creative ways to better the lives of those who are mentally ill.  I am absolutely convinced that the most significant changes to our system will come from the bottom up, not from our nation’s capital. Without inspiring ‘take the bull by the horns’ leaders such as her, we would be lost.

Please take a moment to tell me on my Facebook page about someone who has been impactful in your community!

Dear Pete,

     You have asked me to tell you a bit about my journey for your blog.

     Where do you begin when you have been down that long road of a loved one with a serious mental illness.?

    In our case, our son was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia in September 1986.  Keith was a delight, your average student, a terrific athlete, and was always surrounded by his many friends – oh, how that all changed for him after that year.  Keith was at the University of North Carolina when he decided to drop out of school and join the Army.  He served his enlistment in the Army Rangers and was honorably discharged but little did we know of the struggles he was enduring by himself – the voices and the psychosis. 

      My first exposure to NAMI was in Georgia in 1989 when everything was falling apart while we were stationed at Ft. Benning, GA.  It was at that time that a NAMI father told me that he drove his son with schizophrenia to New Jersey and left him on a street corner and then drove away – this family felt it was the only way to get his son decent treatment for his illness.  I swore at that time I would never do that but it turned out to be easier said than done. 

     I have been a NAMI member in Pennsylvania, California, Florida, Tennessee, and North Carolina – and the members were the saving grace for my own sanity!  Over the years, I have been a President, Vice President, Treasurer, Fundraising Chair and Family to Family and Support Group Leader in NAMI in the hopes that it would help not only my family and son but also the many others out there in my boat.

      We decided that we would retire in North Carolina after 35 years of active duty military service.  What I didn’t do, which I immensely regret, was to do due diligence on housing and recovery programs available in our area.  In our county, there was but one and not necessarily one that Keith or us would want him to live in…….so, what were we to do? 

      On 1 May 2010, I founded the Linden Lodge Foundation and Linden Lodge, a 24/7 supervising living home was established. 

    This was done with the help of NAMI-Moore County and many others in our area that were supportive of our effort.  In those almost 10 years, we have had not one bed empty one night.  All of our “family members” had a history of at least 2 psychiatric hospitalizations per year over the years and all were on Medicare and Medicaid – in our way of thinking they were the most vulnerable. 

    In all the years of our existence, we have only had two residents requiring hospitalization and that was due to medication changes.  Our 7 bedroom 3 bath home is located on 6-1/2 acres and the property and dwelling is maintained by our residents as part of their daily living skills development and assisted by our staff.  It is only because of the generosity of others that we are able to operate and sustain ourselves as we do not use any local, state or federal taxes for our programs. 

    We are blessed with a very caring community that understands the desperate need for quality housing, a “safe haven”, and all that can be offered to aid in their recovery to be best extent possible. 

This is a brief and when I say brief account – I had about 5 minutes to do this.  My husband had thoracic surgery on 12 November for a cerebral spinal leak which has left him unable to walk, no feeling in his legs or feet and his care is primarily in my hands. 

    Thank you so much for your interest in Linden Lodge – it surely can be done other places should a community come together!

Marianne Kernan

Thank you Marianne for being an inspiration to me! You are my selection for the most impactful person of 2019.


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.