The National Alliance
for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) was birthed and gained traction in the early 1980’s. The early families who organized and
promoted the vision of NAMI were primarily dealing with untreated or poorly treated psychotic illness. These families were
isolated from treatment environments, felt ignored, had no support system, lacked hope and felt overwhelmed by the impact
of uncontrolled psychosis, were dealing with the unintended consequences of de-institutionalization (poor community services,
inadequate housing, etc.), and mostly felt frustrated and angry that treatment was eluding their family
intimate knowledge and awareness of these founding families concerns as I stared the first professionally led support group
to the Orange County, California chapter of NAMI in 1981. This weekly group was offered free of charge and continued under
my leadership for 25 years.
As NAMI evolved and
grew larger, it became an increasingly powerful voice on a multitude of important issues relevant to Mental Health problems.
Most of the original founding families have died or moved on. During the last 32 years NAMI has seen the evolution of de-institutionalization
which led to criminalization and NAMI now embraces “Recovery”. One must ask the question: Has
NAMI cared about the mentally ill masses who are confined to our jails, prisons, State Hospitals for the Mentally Ill, or
yet to be incarcerated from homelessness or uncontrolled psychosis in the community? Current day leadership of NAMI might
strongly respond to this question with an appropriate concern and desire to see this reality changed. Those founding families
would look at today’s reality and come to the conclusion that NAMI was a complete failure. While under the watch of
NAMI we have seen out of control criminalization, out of control untreated community psychosis, and the residual pain/suffering/death
which is the outcome.
Why has this happened? What went wrong? It
is not just NAMI who has failed the founding families of NAMI. It is also organized psychiatry, our judicial system and our
law enforcement system. Together those who could have helped create a more effective treatment response for the most seriously
mentally ill, repeatedly decided to do what was easy or imbursed instead of doing what was right or moral.