BY MARK CREEKMORE
Our bylaws place a 6-year limit on the board presidency, and my term is completed this fall. We welcome Tyrone Kelsey as the new president. I plan to continue as a board member working with NAMI (on advocacy primarily).
I am pleased that NAMI has made such great progress in the last years, but this is not due to any individual’s contribution, but to a wonderful team of peers. Here a few points worth considering:
- NAMI is unique because we are peer led, from top to bottom.
- Recruiting, training and retaining peers is the core.
- People are most motivated by relationships and stories.
- A peer-led organization takes shared leadership and a motivated and cohesive team.
- Collaboration with other organizations is key, locally and nationally, especially with NAMI National.
NAMI is built largely on trust and the belief in the capacity of peers with lived experience to help each other. Peers provide all NAMI’s education and support programs. Peers teach the education courses like Family-to-Family and Peer-to-Peer, and peers run the support groups. The community education programs like Ending the Silence in schools are also run and presented by peers. The board is primarily a peer board.
Outside NAMI, so much of what happens in our normal lives occurs because of economic exchanges and payments for services. For mental health services the payments are provided by large organizations, Medicaid and private insurance companies. All human service organizations are staffed with people who have lived experience and trauma. Professional practice norms, however, have created something of a fire wall, and the professional will usually lead with their learned expertise and rarely share their lived experience.
NAMI is different. NAMI grew from the work of family members and the turmoil around the closing of the large state-run institutions. Our peers are people with mental illness and their supporters.
Neither the professional service system nor NAMI can work as well separately as they can work together. Only recently has the importance of lived experience been acknowledged. NAMI does not provide treatment or professional expertise, and expertise is needed in medicine, pharmacology, behavioral treatments, law, housing, education and employment. Mental illness affects all these areas. The challenge is how to integrate these areas, remain hopeful and make things work together. NAMI gives voice to peers who have had experience with these struggles, and we help through education, mutual support and advocacy. With a focus on peers with lived experience NAMI shows that hope is possible, and our recovery gives us our credibility.
Fortunately, NAMI guides us in this work through its national leadership. NAMI national has developed our 10 signature programs and the training that is needed. Their national perspective also guides our advocacy. NAMI’s local leaders, staff and board deeply appreciate the knowledge and wisdom of the national organization.
Thanks for your help over the last six years. NAMI will continue to earn your respect and support.