Mental Illnesses Don’t Discriminate. NAMI, MHA and Racial Diversity In Management

(1-18-21) How racially diverse are the nation’s two largest, grassroots mental health organizations?

It seems an appropriate question to ask on Martin Luther King Jr. day.

So I decided to do a cursory review of upper management and the boards of directors at the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America.

Mental illnesses don’t discriminate and inclusion doesn’t happen by chance. It must be deliberate.


The National Alliance on Mental Illness is headed by Daniel H. Gillson Jr. who is its first African American President and CEO. Counting him, there are a total of five males and nine women on NAMI’s Senior Leadership team. Six of those 14 members are from racial minorities.*  Among them is Mónica L. Villalta, who is NAMI’s National Director of Inclusion and Diversity Officer.

NAMI has an elected 16 member board of directors. It includes six members from racial minority groups. The male/female breakdown is 10 women and 6 men.

In a press release issued last May, Gillson wrote that “racism is a public health crisis.”

“As the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, it is our responsibility to serve all. While as an organization we are still early in our intentional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion journey and have much to do, we have renewed our commitment to our values. We continue to strive to deliver help and hope to all who need it.

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Who Will Replace Dr. McCance-Katz At SAMHSA? Could Be A Surprise But Here’s Six Names Being Whispered

Incoming HHS Secretary will pick Dr. McCance-Katz replacement, sources say.

This blog was updated at 12:45 today with the addition of another candidate.

(1-15-21) Who will replace Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz as the next Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use?

Six names are being whispered, but insiders are warning that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the Biden Administration’s nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services, will make the final call after he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He isn’t coming from the mental health and substance use community so his choice to head the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration could be a surprise.

Among the names I’m hearing are: Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman. Andrew Keller. Dr. Anita Everett, Arthur C. Evans, Judge Steve Leifman and Paolo del Vecchio. Click to continue…

McCance-Katz Looks Back On Her 4 Years As HHS’s 1st Mental Health & Substance Abuse Chief

(1-11-21) I asked Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz to review her four years as the first-ever Assistant Secretary For Mental Health and Substance Use now that she has resigned. Her response follows:

Dear Pete,

I can’t imagine that anyone was more surprised than me when I was nominated to the political appointment of the first Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use.

I have never been active in any political party although I have worked in government for many years—for both Republicans and Democrats.

I have done this because I believe it is imperative that healthcare practitioners have a real ‘place at the table’ and provide subject matter expertise and experience working with those who suffer from illnesses to the government which regulates the delivery of healthcare services in this nation. I have three major tenets that influence my approach and decisions in behavioral health.

Health Care Is  A Right, It’s Cruel To Not Help SMI, And Families Matter

The first is that healthcare is a right—that people have a right to treatment of mental and substance use disorders. The second is that it is not honoring a person’s civil rights to allow them to suffer from brain diseases such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and drug and alcohol addiction because they are too ill to realize they need medical care—rather it is cruel. That approach condemns affected people too often to live unsheltered, without adequate food, isolated and alone, at risk for violence, abuse, injury and sometimes death. For far too many it results in imprisonment for minor infractions of the law further stigmatizing and isolating them. I believe that a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable and, from my perspective, there are none more vulnerable than those who are terribly impaired by severe mental and substance use disorders. I believe families are the real backbone of the safety net system for those living with these serious mental illnesses and that they should be communicated with by healthcare providers when someone too ill to know to contact family members is admitted to a hospital—to not do so is callous. For the great majority of those with serious mental illness family members are the consistent caregivers and as such, should be included in care plans developed by clinicians unless there is evidence for mistreatment or abuse. In my experience, that is rarely the situation.

These principles have guided me through these last four years in federal service.

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Dr. McCance-Katz Resigns As Mental Health Czar Because Of Yesterday’s Attack On U.S. Capitol

New York Times photo

(1-7-21) Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz resigned tonight as the first Assistant Secretary of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the Department of Health and Human Services Administration because of the violent attack by Trump supporters yesterday at the U.S. Capitol.

McCance-Katz’s term was due to end January 20, when President-Elect Joe Biden is scheduled to be sworn in. But in a statement released this evening, she wrote that yesterday’s “behavior was totally unacceptable and, in my own heart, I simply am not able to continue. I believe that we are given certain life situations where we must make the difficult decisions and we get one chance to do it the right way… I cannot support language that results in incitement of violence and risks our very existence.”

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Departing Q and A With John Snook: Nothing Will Get Better For The Seriously Mentally Ill Without Difficult Conversations

Treatment Advocacy Center campaign to end IMD exclusion

(1-4-21)  John Snook is resigning as executive director at the Treatment Advocacy Center after six years. In this Q. and A. departing interview, he discusses the role of TAC.

Question: Why do we need TAC? What makes TAC unique besides the fact that it doesn’t accept Big Pharma money?

TAC plays a role that no other mental health organization does – it’s the only organization focused exclusively on the care of those with severe mental illness. Those with severe mental illness unfortunately don’t have a lot of champions; it’s TAC’s job to ensure that their needs aren’t ignored by policymakers or the mental health community.

The sad fact is that it’s much easier to make the case for mental health than it is for mental illness reform. People don’t want to be reminded of the homeless woman on the street corner or the psychotic man trapped in solitary confinement. And so we often see the conversation drift to talk about everyone’s mental health and away from tough issues like the role of untreated mental illness in fatal encounters with law enforcement.

TAC is there to remind us that unless we have those difficult conversations, nothing is going to get better and those most in need will continue to be left behind. 

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John Snook – Treatment Advocacy Center’s Executive Director Moving To Behavioral Healthcare Association

(1-1-21)  John Snook is resigning as executive director at the Treatment Advocacy Center after six years overseeing its operations, the non-profit announced today. He has accepted a job as Director of Government Relations and Strategic Initiatives at the National Association for Behavioral Healthcare, a Washington DC-based association that represents America’s largest psychiatric hospital chains.

His departure creates openings at the helms of two major mental health non-profits. Mental Health America’s President and CEO Paul Gionfriddo announced earlier this month that he is retiring in the new year. MHA is the oldest  mental health advocacy group founded by former mental patients.

TAC was founded in 1988 by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey to advocate “for the elimination of barriers to effective treatment for individuals with severe mental illness.” Its focus has always been on serious mental illnesses. One of its core missions is to advocate for greater use of Assisted Outpatient Treatment. It also has pushed for more inpatient crisis care beds. TAC’s current Director of Advocacy, Lisa Dailey, will serve as TAC’s acting director until its board selects a successor.

I was told that John is leaving on good terms for career advancement. NABH is about twice the size of TAC in gross revenues. NABH members include more than 800 specialty psychiatric hospitals, general hospital psychiatric and addiction treatment units, residential treatment centers, youth services organizations, and other providers of care.

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