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!

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Virginia Gov. Okays Tonight’s Execution of Prisoner With Severe Mental Illness Despite Pleas: But Claims To Be Mental Health Advocate

Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe speaks during a debate at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

(7-6-17) Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe should be embarrassed to show his face at a State of Mental Health Care: Challenges and Solutions forum being held by the Hill newspaper Tuesday, July 18, at The Newseum.

It is disingenuous to have McAuliffe on the same platform with mental health advocates after his decision this afternoon to not intervene in the planned execution of a 35 year-old man with a severe mental illness – despite pleas by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the daughter of one of the murder victims, numerous elected leaders and The Washington Post. 

Morva is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection tonight at 9 p.m. even though an independent, court appointed psychiatrist said Morva has a severe delusional disorder that impaired his thinking when he fatally shot Montgomery County Deputy Sheriff Corporal Eric Sutphin and hospital security guard Derrick McFarland while escaping from jail in 2006.abcdefg

McAuliffe’s decision really should not surprise anyone who has paid attention to how his administration has treated individuals with mental illnesses.

Both he and Attorney General Mark Herring cried crocodile tears when the body of Jamycheal Mitchell, who died of a heart attack caused by starvation, was found in his Hampton Road Regional Jail Cell where he had been waiting for 101 days for admission into a state hospital for treatment of his schizophrenia.

Although he claimed concern, Gov. McAuliffe cleared one of his political appointees of mishandling an investigation into Mitchell’s death without ever bothering to speak to an employee who filed a whistleblower complaint about the state Inspector General’s investigation. Later, he found another plum state government job for that Inspector General after the state legislature refused to reappoint her. Meanwhile, it was Herring’s office that reportedly sat on an investigative report about Mitchell’s death until the state legislature adjourned and then, according to a Richmond Times Dispatch story, “intervened” when investigators attempted to find out what had happened to Mitchell while he was being held in jail after stealing $5.05 worth of snacks.  The handling of the Mitchell case was so badly handled that the U.S. Department of Justice decided to launch its own probe of the jail.

In refusing to grant clemency, McAuliffe and Herring both showed their same stripes. The governor announced:

“I personally oppose the death penalty; however, I took an oath to uphold the laws of this Commonwealth regardless of my personal views of those laws, as long as they are being fairly and justly applied. Thus, after extensive review and deliberation consistent with the process I have applied to previous requests for commutation, I have declined Mr. Morva’s petition. I have and will continue to pray for the families of the victims of these terrible crimes and for all of the people whose lives have been impacted.”

McAuliffe ignored the findings of a report by an independent psychiatrist appointed by a federal court after Morva’s trial and the only expert to have interviewed Morva and considered his complete psychiatric history. Attorney General Mark Herring (who represents Virginia on appeals) could have had Morva evaluated by another expert of the state’s own choosing, but Herring never bothered to go back to the federal court and ask for that evaluation. It was just a man’s life in the balance.

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NAMI’s Future: Mary Zdanowicz: “We cannot forget that some people may never achieve full recovery.”

(7-6-17) I first became friends with Mary Zdanowicz when we were appointed to serve on a Virginia task force rewriting the state’s involuntary commitment standards. Several members of that committee, who had mental illnesses, were adamant about not changing the “imminent danger” language that had stopped me from getting my son help when he clearly was psychotic. Sadly, the meetings turned contentious. Through it all, Mary took the high ground. She ignored unnecessary bickering and insults, and never disclosed that she had a mental illness even though one of our antagonists considered us the enemy and felt that her diagnosis gave her more insights than Mary or any of the rest of us could possibly have. I came to greatly admire Mary’s dedication and determination – especially under fire. I was not surprised when I learned she was running for the NAMI board on a “Focus on Serious Mental Illness” ticket because, in her own life and professionally, Mary always has advocated for the sickest of the sick. Here’s her speech from the convention. She was not elected.


Why Focus on Serious Mental Illness?

Because NAMI is the only organization for people with serious mental illnesses and their families. mary

To be clear, serious mental illness is not based upon diagnosis alone. It is not just schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

It depends on the duration and severity of functional impairment of any diagnosable mental illness. It includes anxiety disorders, PTSD and others.

In recent years though, NAMI elected officials have broadened the organization’s focus.

This would be fine except it seems that the focus on mental illness is diminishing and “mental health disorders” are gaining prominence.

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NAMI’S Future: Micah Pearson: NAMI Saved My Life!

(7-5-17) If you were fortunate to hear Micah Pearson give his convention campaign speech, it is easy to understand why he was elected to the NAMI board of directors. This written version doesn’t do his talk justice because it is missing the passion and exuberance, in which, he delivered it. Several in the audience interrupted him with cheers as he spoke about his vision for NAMI. This is the third speech given at the candidate forum that I want to share with you.)

Micah Pearson: Why I Am Here!

I agonized over my stump speech.

How would I communicate the intricacies of my platform, the goals I hoped to achieve in working with the other dynamic people? How could I tell of my lifelong struggles to accept, cope, and eventually thrive with my mental health conditions? How can I possibly convey my passion to do the work of NAMI and to do my part to ensure that it touched as many lives as possible?

And most importantly: How would I do all of that in five minutes or less?

Even as I was sitting in my seat on the stage in the banquet hall, squeezed somewhere in the middle of the 16 distinguished candidates, I found myself struggling with all of these thoughts. It wasn’t until I was standing in front of the microphones that I eschewed those goals entirely and decided to simply introduce myself in a way that told people why I was standing there in the first place.  micah

I am here because in 2004 I took a NAMI Peer to Peer class and learned that I was not a broken toy because I live with Bipolar Type I with rapid Cycling and psychotic features.

I am here because in that same class I was not “stupid” because I also live with severe Attention Deficit Hyperactive disorder.

I am here because after I took that class, I was able to call my parents and tell them that they should take the Family to Family class and learn more about the conditions with which I lived.

I am here because when I finally had my breakdown and needed to move from my home here in Washington D.C. to the rural town of Las Cruces New Mexico, my parents were now Family to Family teachers who had the skills to help me engage in my recovery.

I am here because NAMI saved my life.

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NAMI’s Future – Frankie Berger’s Speech: “Our compassion is our compass.”

(7-4-17) Whispers at last week’s convention that Frankie Berger had only joined NAMI a few days before filing her paperwork to run for its national board, along with her being an employee at the Treatment Advocacy Center, apparently doomed her election chances. But I have watched Frankie work on Capitol Hill and NAMI would be wise to welcome her as a fellow advocate because she is an up-and-coming dynamo with tremendous talent to offer. Here is a copy of the speech that she delivered. It is the second speech that I’ve posted this week by candidates with different viewpoints for those who couldn’t attend the convention. )


I was a young teenager when my mom’s depression turned severe, clinical and suicidal. She was a single mom and in really bad shape, and as an only child, I was often left to care for both her and myself. 

I was paying bills with babysitting money, and regularly grocery shopping at the local convenience store because I couldn’t drive. No one ever asked how old I was when I made the doctors’ appointments, and if you know someone’s birthday, you can pick up their medications. 

I’d spend my days in school terrified of what I’d come home to – an empty house or worse.  frankie berger

This was our normal routine. 

My grades and absenteeism at the time were abysmal. Getting to school was dependent on finding a ride. At one point, my teachers wrote a collective note to my mom that said, “We believe that maybe Frankie isn’t being challenged enough.” 

Yes. I was.

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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.

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