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Reason to Hope, Reason to Walk – Sheila Girard

Sheila and Rob Girard

First and foremost, Sheila Girard is a mother. Two years ago, when her son was diagnosed with a mental illness, she was a scared and heartbroken mother. But that was before she knew about NAMI Mass. Today, while her heart still aches for the hardships her son endures, she is no longer broken or frightened. She credits NAMI Mass with making the difference.

When Sheila’s son became ill, she felt lost and alone, wondering where to turn, who could help and how she could help her child. She wished the illness would disappear, but she soon realized this was futile. Her wish for help and guidance, however, did come true. NAMI Mass has helped Sheila understand that the essence of her son lives on inside him; that he still loves her even if he can’t always express it and—perhaps most important—that they are not alone.

“NAMI Mass gave me a new family I could rely on and open up to,” Sheila says. “They helped me realize that there are more people out there who feel the same way I do and the same way my son does. They showed me we are not alone. With NAMI, we are here to help one another get through the pain of our day-to-day struggles. Together, we learn how to help our loved ones and take care of ourselves, too.”

Sheila says that NAMI Mass also taught her how to navigate the medical system and deal with its shortcomings, how to handle the obstacles and manage the cruelty of stigma, and how to find the silver lining within the clouds.

“My eyes are wide open to the need for patience and for understanding the long process involved for anyone with a mental illness. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff and to celebrate the baby steps. I’ve learned not to focus on the things that I want my son to accomplish, but rather concentrate on what he wants to accomplish. As parents of children with mental illness, we need to be happy that they are alive and with us and enjoy our time together, because so many families are not as lucky.”

Sheila is grateful for NAMI Mass and believes so strongly in the power of its programs that she underwent training to become a Family-to-Family teacher and a Family Support Group facilitator. Like so many NAMI Mass members, she’s paying it forward, doing all she can to help others and to help eradicate the stigma of mental illness. She will participate in NAMIWalks Massachusetts again this year. She is a featured speaker—standing up for her son, herself and countless others to bravely share her personal story. And she has organized a team of walkers. The group’s name? Team Hope. How perfect.

Register to Walk on May 10th!

Donate to NAMIWalk Massachusetts!

Volunteer for the Walk on May 10th!

Reason to Hope, Reason to Walk – Eliza WIlliamson

Eliza Williamson

If you knew every detail of Eliza T. Williamson’s long battle with mental illness, you might think it’s a miracle that she’s alive, much less stable and happy. But you’d be wrong. Miracles are attributed to divine or supernatural intervention. Eliza’s story of hope and survival is a triumph of the human spirit, the result of her own hard work and resilience along with the support of her family, her therapist and her volunteer work with NAMI Mass.

Eliza’s first brush with mental illness came in her junior year of high school. As college graduation approached, she was increasingly anxious and out of control. She was losing chunks of time and began to self-harm. At her most ill, she engaged in extremely irrational and dangerous behaviors. But somehow, she maintained a smokescreen of normality. Fear of stigma forced her to keep her illness a secret.

“Stigma was a huge barrier to accepting I had mental illness and to seeking treatment. I remember my mom set up a session for me with the high school counselor, but I didn’t want to walk through that office door. It wasn’t worth risking what people would think,” Eliza admits. “The gray cloud of stigma causes conceptual and concrete obstacles to recovery. Even after I accepted my illness, I had feelings of shame and embarrassment. So, when I would see my warning signs, it made it difficult to be honest and ask for help even though I knew, logically, that was the only way to make things better.”

Keeping up her façade became all-encompassing and exhausting. The pressure led Eliza to attempt suicide in 2001. When the paramedics shocked her back to life, she was angry—angry to be alive. But, terrified of facing one more day of pretending, she embarked on a path to get better.

It’s been a long road but worthwhile road to recovery. Eliza credits her family for understanding she was sick and trying to get her in treatment. She says two other factors are crucial to her recovery. First, she has a longstanding relationship with a therapist in whom she has total trust. More than a decade ago, that therapist said something to Eliza that continues to resonate.

“When I was in a particularly bad place about 10 years ago, I told my therapist I had no hope that things would get better. She said, ‘Well, Lize, you can borrow some of mine, because I have enough hope for both of us.’ To this day, the idea of borrowing hope clicks for me and it really helps.”

The other crucial piece for Eliza has been DBT, or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. She describes it as a “very nuts and bolts” type of therapy. “It’s about focusing on what I can do in this moment to make things more bearable versus past hurts and wrongs or ‘what ifs.’ It’s empowered me to move through and beyond the limitations of my illness.”

Eliza has faced her demons and has come out the other side. “I haven’t been hospitalized in seven years, and it’s been eight years since I’ve hurt myself. I fell in love and got married. We bought a house and have two dogs. I’ve found joy in writing and had my first story published in 2010. I have this great life now that I never thought was possible.”

Last June, Eliza began presenting her story as part of NAMI’s In Our Own Voice program. She didn’t realize how powerful the experience would be. “NAMI filled a void by giving me opportunities to make my life feel really meaningful. I’m getting to pay it forward, all the while coming to realize that my suffering isn’t irrelevant or in vain. I’ve been given a tremendous gift by getting to share my journey, working to end stigma and being able to offer others hope. I feel incredibly grateful.”

Register to Walk on May 10th!

Donate to NAMIWalk Massachusetts!

Volunteer for the Walk on May 10th!

A Message to our Members: Joshua Messier and Peter Minich Are Our Sons, Too

Jossier Messier and Peter Minich

Many of us in NAMI Massachusetts are family members of loved ones struggling with severe and persistent mental illness.  That’s why Joshua and Peter — victims of abuse at Bridgewater State Hospital — are family to us.  Like them, our own sons and daughters have been caught up in the criminal justice system because of their illness.  Many of our loved ones have spent days in jail, often in seclusion, or tied down in a hospital bed because they were difficult to handle at a critical moment.  We mourn Joshua and Peter’s suffering at the hands of Bridgewater State Hospital and realize it was simple fate that placed them there and not our own children.  We must resolve that Massachusetts will not be the site of another such tragedy.  We are all responsible.  NAMI Massachusetts is dedicated to ending the abuse of seclusion and restraints, assuring that only those men charged with or convicted of crimes be sent to Bridgewater State Hospital, and providing the crisis training so desperately needed throughout the system.

Steve Rosenfeld,  NAMI Mass Board President

Do you know anyone with a family member who has been confined at Bridgewater State Hospital and would be willing to talk to a legal mental health advocate about his/her treatment? Please let me know if you know someone who fits this category and is willing to talk about the situation. Contact Phillip Kassel, Executive Director, Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, 24 School St. – 8th floor, Boston, MA 02108, 617-338-2345-(x – 123) or pkassel@MHLAC.ORG.

Bridgewater State Hospital

NAMI Mass is heartened by the MA House budget progress but our work is not done!

Official Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

The House Committee on Ways and Means FY 2015 budget proposal was released last week. It provides critical funding to support the Department of Mental Health (DMH) programs which serve approximately 22,000 adults and children in Massachusetts.  This year’s House Budget provides an additional $12.2 Million in funding (total of $723 million) over what the Governor proposed (total of $712 million). NAMI Mass is heartened by the progress.

Clearly, our state representatives heard your stories at Advocacy Day and answered the call for more resources!! Thank you to all who made the day a tremendous success.

Some highlights are of the proposed budget:

  • $361.4M for Adult Community Mental Health Services
  • $87.4M for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, including $3.1M for the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project
  • $36.4M for Acute Inpatient and Emergency Programs
  • $181.4M for State Psychiatric Hospitals and Community Mental Health Centers, maintaining funding for the operation of 45 beds at Taunton State Hospital
  • $5.1M for the Rental Subsidy Program for Department of Mental Health Clients
  • $2.7M initiative to address substance abuse and mental health issues by expanding specialty courts throughout the Commonwealth. This 3-year commitment will be launched in partnership with the Departments of Public Health, Mental Health and Veterans’ Services.

It is certainly a big step in the right direction, but our work is not yet done.

The budget will be debated beginning on April 28th, 2014. There are nearly 1,200 amendments which have been filed and NAMI Mass has identified 11 as critical to ensuring the Commonwealth continues to provide a broad array of community based services. We ask that you contact ONLY your STATE REPRESENTATIVE and ask him or her to co sponsor the following amendments (click on each to see the text):

Amendment #150 re: Clubhouses

Amendment #226 re: Adult Mental Health

Amendment #304 re: Behavioral Health Inpatient Payments

Amendment #328 re: Mental Health Access

Amendment #625 re: Adult Mental health and Support Services

Amendment #815   re: Child/Adolescent Mental Health Services

Amendment #886  re: Co-Occuring Disorders

Amendment #887  re: Behavioral Health Boarding Study

Amendment #905 re: Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee

Amendment #911 re: Geriatric Mental Health

Amendment #1068 re: Behavioral Health Task Force

If you do not know who your STATE REPRESENTATIVE is, please click here to find out.

WAY BEHIND: Report on the State of Mental Health in 2014

Press Release: Report on the State of Mental Health in 2014

Photo of Senator Brian Joyce speaking at Advocacy Day


Findings Support NAMI’s Push for Additional Funding


April 6, 2014

CHARLESTOWN, MA – In conjunction with its annual Advocacy Day event at the Massachusetts State House, NAMI Mass – the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness – is releasing its Revised Report Issued May 27, 2014: WAY BEHIND: Report on the State of Mental Health in 2014 . The report examines how state funding for mental health services as well as community-based programs have fared since the Commonwealth slashed mental health funding in 2009.

On Monday April 7 from 11a.m. to 3p.m., NAMI Mass will gather mental health advocates from across the Commonwealth at the Great Hall inside the State House to lobby lawmakers on several legislative priorities. The release of the NAMI Report on the State of Mental Health in 2014, will serve as powerful talking points for advocates to discuss with their state senators and representatives.

The Report examines five key areas:

  1. Department of Mental Health (DMH) budget: Since the 2009 cuts, Massachusetts ranks last in percent growth of funding among New England states;
  2. Funding for police training: Despite a new statewide training program for new police recruits, Massachusetts has the lowest legislative appropriation for training per police officer in New England;
  3. Community-based services for adults: This represents the DMH’s primary service for adults with serious mental illness, but has an unacceptable lack of oversight and monitoring data to evaluate quality and outcomes;
  4. Psychiatric inpatient beds (public and private): There is pressure from an inadequate system of community based services combined with a 40 percent decrease in the number of public beds since 2005. Private bed shortages has caused as many as half of hospital emergency department beds to be occupied by patients experiencing behavioral health issues;
  5. Emergency Services Programs (ESP): Even as ESP provides mobile behavioral health crisis services for adults and children, too many of these occur in hospital emergency departments as opposed to in the home, school or workplace.

“The most important point we want people to remember from this report is that despite modest progress in some areas, Massachusetts has a long way to go with regard to the way it treats the thousands of residents who live with mental illness,” said NAMI Mass Executive Director Laurie Martinelli. “Massachusetts is way behind in terms of providing individuals with mental illness with the services and supports they need.”

NAMI Mass recommends the following actions in order to improve the state of mental health:

  • Increase the Department of Mental Health budget for FY2015 by $15.9 million
  • Encourage jail diversion for people with mental illness
  • Invest $2.7 million more in specialty courts such as mental health, drug, and veteran courts
  • Enact S.1189 (An Act Relative to Police Training) to consistently and adequately fund police training
  • Enact H.836 (An Act Requiring Mental Health Parity for Disability Policies) to eliminate discrimination for people with mental illness who collect long term disability
  • Enact S.1959 (An Act Ensuring Parity for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment) to create a private right of action for any parity violations
  • Enact H.840 (An Act to Require Health Care Coverage for Emergency Psychiatric Services) to require all private commercial insurers to cover Emergency Psychiatric Services

According to Martinelli, “If these issues become higher priorities and receive adequate funding, Massachusetts could improve dramatically and thus the environment for mental health services throughout the Commonwealth.”

To receive a copy of Revised Report Issued May 27, 2014: WAY BEHIND: Report on the State of Mental Health in 2014 or to schedule interviews, please contact:

Matt Ellis

Ellis Strategies, Inc.
matt@ellisstrategies.com  | 617-278-6560

About NAMI:

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research and is steadfast in its commitment to raising awareness and building a community of hope for all of those in need. From its inception in 1979, NAMI has been dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. Financial contributions allow NAMI to offer an array of programs, initiatives and activities in support of the NAMI mission.

Report: Mass. Mental Health Services ‘Way Behind’ (WBUR/State House News Service)

Mental health panel proposes stigma changes (The Daily Free Press)


Were you Unable to Attend Advocacy Day on April 7th? 

Download the Following Advocacy Day Materials To Make Your Voice Heard!

Sign, date and include your home address on the selected fact sheets and
fax, mail or email to your Massachusetts Senator and Representative
(Click here to find out who your legislators are)
(Click here to get their mailing address, fax number and email

S 1189 Fact Sheet – Suport Crucial CIT for Law Enforcement (Crisis Intervention Training)

S 1959 Fact Sheet – Support Private Right of Action for Parity

Support Specialty Courts to Divert Persons with Mental Illness into Treatment

H 840 Fact Sheet – Support Commercial Health Insurance Payment for ESP (Emergency Services Programs)

H 836 Fact Sheet – Eliminate Discrimination for LTD (Long-Term Disability Insurance)

Support Increase in MassHealth Reimbursement Fact Sheet

Support Restoration of $15.9 Million to the DMH FY2015 Budget

NAMI Mass to Press Lawmakers on Mental Health Funding – Annual Advocacy Day to feature speakers and lobbying

Mass. State House at nightime

NAMI Mass to Press Lawmakers on Mental Health Funding

Annual Advocacy Day to feature speakers and lobbying


April 1, 2014

CHARLESTOWN, MA – On April 7, 2014 NAMI Mass will gather mental health advocates from across the Commonwealth to lobby lawmakers at the Massachusetts State House. The annual NAMI Mass Advocacy Day runs from 11a.m. to 3p.m. and is focused on several legislative priorities—chief among them, increasing the budget for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH).

“In 2009, the state slashed the DMH budget by $50 million. Since then, funding has failed to keep up with the growing demand for mental health services for children and adults across Massachusetts,” said Laurie Martinelli, executive director of NAMI Mass. “We want lawmakers to hear our voices and take the necessary steps to increase funding for these services next year.”

Governor Deval Patrick’s proposed fiscal 2015 budget calls for an increase in mental health funding of less than one percent. Without additional funding, over 400 adults and children will immediately see vital services slashed.

Since the 2009 cuts, Massachusetts has ranked last among New England states for the percentage of growth in mental health funding. NAMI Mass is hoping to reverse that statistic and prevent more children, families and single adults from losing access to services that allow them to live independently in their own homes and communities.

“Preserving DMH services that positively impact the state’s most vulnerable population is our top priority right now,” said Martinelli.

Before advocates begin visits to lawmakers representing their home districts NAMI Mass will present a short series of speakers discussing the state of mental health in Massachusetts. Speakers include:

  • Attorney General, Martha Coakley
  • State Senator Brian Joyce
  • Chief Judge Paula Carey, Massachusetts Trial Court
  • Harry Spence, Massachusetts Court Administrator
  • Eliza Williamson, a person with mental illness who will discuss her recovery

Media Contact:

Matt Ellis

Ellis Strategies, Inc.

matt@ellisstrategies.com  | 617-278-6560