NAMI ’09 – 30th bday in City by the Bay

NAMI had humble beginnings. It grew from a few parents who refused to let ignorance and predjudice color the lives of their children. It has grown to a movement responsible for the development of groups such as NARSAD, leading researchers of the brain and how it relates to mental illness. “When Medication Got it Wrong,” a documentary to be released by Katie Cadigan in May, 2010, tells the story of those beginnings. The NAMI Conference opened Sunday eveninig with that screening, with Cadigan discussing her journey and with some of the original players making their way to the stage to receive a standing ovation.

Monday was dedicated to various leadership institute workshops which needed to be signed up for in advance and were added this year to create more NAMI leaders. Dr. Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State spoke to GLBT issues in her cutting-edge research known as the Family Acceptance Project. She has interviewed families in both urban and rural areas (from a variety of religious backgrounds) who have had a child come out. Not exactly surprising, a family’s rejection has high correlations to suicide, drug abuse and mental illness as the stress of such rejection can trigger a break. Conversely, the family’s level of acceptance which meets the child where they are can result in the child’s possibility of a happy and mentally healthy life.

Convention orientation was necessary on this day just to understand the whacky escalator system in the Hilton. Breaks are important because so much goes on–Jordan, Amanda, Alix and Robyn had a feast and sleepover and Mike and I had another bonus date night in San Fran. (Amber India and “Yes, Man” at the hotel. I know. We live a wild life.)

Tuesday morning gave many choices, but the sessions were too long for our taste (3 hours!) We opted for Child and Adolescent issues, under which transitional youth (18 -25 years) fall. It was exciting to hear what many states are doing to educate teachers, administrators, school counselors and nurses about mental illness and suicide prevention/postvention. The National office is working on a social networking site for transitional youth with mental illnesses so that they can ask peers about issues they struggle with. That’s an exciting project. We were interested in what was happening on college campuses across the country to try and educate students. Apparently MIT (following their suicide after which they paid a handsome price) has become a model campus in the way they educate their students.

After some pretty awesome clam chowder and seafood lunch, we listened to the official “opening,” which came off a bit rough due to some technical problems with the audio visual. Michael Fitzpatrick, NAMI executive director, gave a historical sketch of the past 30 years. National NAMI President Anan Pandya spoke to the issue of parity, treating mental health issues the same as other medical health issues which until last October had been a 30 year struggle. Fred Frese echoed this, both emphasizing the biggest struggle is yet to come. Frese, who has schizophrenia himself, gave an animated and entertaining presentation about the last 30 year’s struggle (his and NAMIs). Catch him in “Minds on the Edge” with Pete Earley and others role playing various scenarios, such as how to handle a college student that’s showing manic behavior, as you probably know the subject of my YA novel work in progress.

Always an awesome speaker, Pete Earley, former Washington Post reporter and author of Crazy, passionately wrapped up the session speaking of the importance of speaking out to stamp out stigma. People so often are afraid of the repercussions of speaking out against the shameful way our culture treats the mentally ill and/or their own relationship with mental illness, but Earley emphasizes this is essential. Earley became a tireless advocate for changing how our culture treats the mentally ill when his son had a psychotic break at 18, broke into someone’s house to take a bubblebath and was subsequently introduced to incarcertation. (Read Crazy. It’s powerful.)

We wanted to go see Joyce Cooling, jazz artist, but we ate Greek food then had a little basketball game in the park (parents won but don’t tell Jordan!)… and then everybody got really sleepy which is why I have time to write this.

We’re excited about tomorrow. The day opens with Marsha Linehan who develeoped Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, a therapeutic process which has shown a high success rate with chronically suicidal patients. We’re also leaning towards attending “Cultural Issues in recovery” and “arts in recovery” in the morning. Tomorrow night Nathaniel Ayers is planning to play the cello and Steve Lopez will speak at a screening of “The Soloist,” which of course we’ve seen, but not with Nathaniel’s introduction. How cool is that?! Ayers is the recipient of Rona and Ken Purdy Award to end discrimination for his openness with reporter Lopez in sharing his story on which the film was based. When Lopez wrote these columns for The Times, I read Sunday mornings in the LA Times with fascination as the story unfolded. This feels like full circle in a relatively short period of time in the publishing world.

There’s still one last day after tomorrow. I’ll let you know what happens. (It’s really cold here! Summer? What summer?)