National Alliance on Mental Illness Advocacy Day, 4/2/12

Originally published in “The Bridge,” affiliate newsletter of NAMI Central Middlesex, MA, in May 2012

On April 2 2012, approximately 175 NAMI members and friends met at the Massachusetts State House to listen to speakers, enjoy a free lunch, and petition their legislators. The causes chosen for petition were: education for Massachusetts police, EMTs, and firefighters about mental illness episodes (as opposed to crimes); and funding for the Department of Mental Health. More funds for both these causes would result in long-term financial savings for the State, as well as being more humane for the people involved.

During the long wait to get through security before entering the State House, people talked about why they were there. Voices were determined, passionate, and occasionally bitterly angry. People told personal stories about injustice towards the mentally ill. The stories started with “My brother…”, “My son…”, and “When I was in the hospital…” Later, inside, after a speech by a woman helped by DMH, NAMI Massachusetts executive director Laurie Martinelli said, “This story can be repeated at every table in this room.” There were nods everywhere, some emphatic, some tearful, as people remembered those stories shared in line at security. People are personally invested in this vital cause.

The presentation began with a video by Patrick Kennedy. It was followed with speeches by Senate President Therese Murray, State Representative James O’Day, Ms. Mary Munsell (who lives with mental illness), and Mr. Joe Giannino of NAMI Massachusetts legislative affairs. Over and over people emphasized the need for more understanding and funding. Ms. Munsell demanded, “Aren’t our lives worth investing in?” Rep. O’Day pointed out that funding for DMH has gone down despite the fact that the number of ill individuals is “not decreasing.” Mr. Giannino said, “Just because the dollars are drying up, doesn’t mean the individuals are drying up.” Both men denounced this situation as unacceptable.

And yet, there was an undertone of acknowledgement that money is limited and NAMI’s cause is perhaps not the first cause to be granted funding when budgets are, inevitably, reconsidered. Rep. O’Day promised, “I will do my very best” to achieve NAMI’s petition goals; he did not promise he would be able to achieve them or even get close to doing so. When this reporter petitioned the aides of her representative and senator, she received a similar message: lots of nodding and “Yes, that’s very important;” no promises.

We still have work to do.

For more information on NAMI, see www.nami.org.

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