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Record Year for Johnson County NAMIWalk Participation

Dave Loebsack and Ken Kates

by Jude Gustafson, Department of Psychiatry, UI Health Care

Since 1979, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has been providing leadership in advocacy and education on the subject of mental health in the effort to reduce barriers to treatment and services. In Johnson County (JC), the mainstay of NAMI’s fundraising is the three-mile annual NAMIWalk, which was held in Iowa City on April 27, 2013—the ninth annual walk for this county.

Della McGrath of NAMI-JC reports a record number of over 1,000 participants at this year’s event raised over $86,500 so far as they continue to tally receipts. She says, “There are three purposes for the walk: we raise funds for NAMI projects and programs; it raises awareness of mental illness and how many people are affected by it; and it gets people to think and talk about it like any other illness that, like diabetes and heart disease, requires treatment.”

Dr. Michael Flaum, a NAMIWalk veteran and psychiatrist specializing in treatment of schizophrenia at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics provides background on a topic at the core of NAMI: the stigma of mental illness. “I think of the 1980s as the bad old days. After federal legislation drastically reduced the number of people in psychiatric hospitals, it was mostly parents who bore the brunt of the responsibility for those diagnosed with schizophrenia. The subject of mental illness was taboo, so families were on their own trying to deal not only with the heartache of seeing their adult children suffering with an illness that often devastated their lives, but also having to struggle with the guilt thrust on them by a society that believed they somehow caused their children’s illness.”

Families eventually began to turn to each other, networking to find out where to call, which doctors or therapists were best, and what social services might be able to help. From this base of networking, NAMI was born. Fairly quickly, NAMI formed chapters in every state. Localized chapters followed, such as NAMI Johnson County, where people can efficiently find help closer to home.

One of this year’s NAMIWalk participants, Congressman David Loebsack (pictured in feature image on left above), lends strong support and awareness at the federal level, including a push to improve National Guard and Reserve mental health care, and a vote for the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which prohibits insurers and group health plans from imposing treatment or coverage limitations that are more restrictive than those applied to general medical or surgical services.

Loebsack comments, “As a proud NAMI member, I participate in many NAMIWalk events and I look forward to being a part of this important event every year. Mental health is an issue of personal importance to me, as my mother struggled with mental illness her whole adult life. I’ve experienced firsthand the necessity of timely and proper care for those struggling with mental health issues. As a Representative, I will continue to press for the passage of important legislation, such as my bill, the Reducing Barriers to Learning Act, which would increase the number of counselors and psychologists in our schools. I will continue to work to support those whose lives have been touched by mental illness.”

Flaum is grateful for the help. “It’s so important to have people at the national level who really care and identify with this issue. Senator Pete Domenici championed the cause for many years, and this country needs someone to fill the great void that has been there since he left office in 2009. Many of us here in Iowa are looking to Congressman Loebsack for national leadership on this important and often neglected set of issues.”

Among the items on NAMI-JC’s programs and services list are things like the “Tell Me Where to Turn” booklet, school and housing projects, a suicide prevention program, a crisis hotline, scholarships, and educational programs such as “Family-to-Family” and “Peer-to-Peer” support groups. Their “wish list” for future additions includes a wellness center, resource manuals, a mental health coordinator, billboard and movie theatre ads, workshops, and more.

Dr. Jimmy Potash, Chair of the University of Iowa Psychiatry Department, served as business team co-chair of the walk with Ken Kates (pictured to the right in feature image above), Associate Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Potash says, "It is so important for us to ally ourselves with the families and friends of our patients. They are the people who care deeply about our patients. And we, as mental health care providers, need to involve them in the care we give at every step of the way. I am very glad to be working closely with NAMI."

Flaum adds, “As a society, we’ve come out of the shadows. People are bringing their families and friends in to be a part of the NAMIWalk event, and not only locally, but it’s a national event. It’s fun and reminds everyone serving in the mental health field why we’re here, and that’s a good thing.”


Michael Flaum, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UI Health Care