Letter to Editor - November 2001

[Editor’s Note: Pete Feigal’s Mental Illness/Brain Disorders column of September brought a letter of response last month from the president of National Alliance for the Mentally Ill –Minnesota (NAMI-MN). This month we publish two responses to that letter, one from a NAMI member and one from Mr. Feigal. Look for more on this controversy in future issues of Access Press.]

Open Letter to President Zwack

Dear President Zwack,

I suggest that you carefully re-read Mr. Feigal’s article, “I Can’t Go On.” He never said that he feels he’s lost his soul but, rather, that others have suggested to him that he’s sold out and sold his soul. Sadly, you seem to have missed his primary message that, despite profound personal and professional challenges and frustrations, he keeps on keeping on, committed to making a difference. Such are not the words of a man who feels he’s sold his soul!

A concern that your letter raises is the telling comment, “we believed in some issues that weren’t supported by all and chose to pursue them independently.” Was the last legislative session a banner year for mental illness issues? Yes! Did NAMI-MN contribute to that success? Yes. Did NAMI-MN accurately represent the interests of its state-wide constituency? No!

This point is one of the key concerns brought by the affiliates to the Board last June and, in fact, is the fulcrum on which many of the affiliates’ concerns hinge. “Choosing” to dedicate the time and resources of NAMI-MN to an agenda that was dead last on the affiliates’ priority list (surveyed and rated at last fall’s State conference) suggests that NAMI-MN is not acting in integrity with the organization and the individuals it purports to represent.

Your letter raises another concern. In “I Can’t Go On,” the author writes of his extensive commitment of personal time to advocate and educate on mental illness. He writes of feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and alone in his work and, had you looked at the many published calendars detailing his extensive speaking schedule on behalf of NAMI and mental illness (over 160 bookings nationwide from September to November alone) you would certainly understand why. Rather than criticizing his article, I would have hoped that our state NAMI organization would be addressing the questions this scenario raises: Where is our state organization in terms of providing help and support for the president of its largest affiliate?!!! What is NAMI-MN doing to augment, encourage, and support the work that’s being done in the field? Where is NAMI-MN’s speakers’ bureau? When and where does it offer speakers’ training?

Is NAMI-MN strong and vibrant? From the perspective of the affiliates, it doesn’t look like it, when we see a new Executive Director again, an exiting Assistant Executive Director no permanent staffing, desperate pleas for money, and the leadership claiming to be “establishing NAMI-MN as the powerful voice on mental illness” while it prefers to pursue personal agendas independently of its membership and the mental health community at large.

Change is indeed needed – positive, responsive change. A move away from personal agendas and issues to functioning with integrity as a professional organization.

Laurie E. Brandt, Editor of Hennepin NAMI Newsletter, NAMI Member, Family To Family Facilitator