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Q & A with Michael Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, National Institute on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Michael J. Fitzpatrick is executive director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Prior to taking that role in January of 2004, he served both as the director of NAMI's Policy Research Institute and as NAMI's national director of policy. Prior to joining NAMI in 1999, Mr. Fitzpatrick held senior management positions in state government, in nonprofit agencies in both the mental health and primary health sectors and in the private sector where he developed successful education, employment, housing, outreach and rehabilitation programs.

Be Smart. Be Well. sat down with Michael Fitzpatrick to discuss mental health issues. Watch the video interview above or read the transcript below.

To learn more about Mental Health issues, visit Be Smart. Be Well. Mental Health.

BSBW: What are some important things to know about mental illness today?

Michael Fitzpatrick: It's a challenge to recover from. And it requires the help of your family, friends, it requires you in many cases to remake your life. But people do recover and again we're, I think we're in a world where we know that there are treatments that work. And we all need to work to provide an avenue for people again when it, when it strikes a family or an individual that people have some idea where to go. Where to get services that are effective and too often these days it's still a very hazy journey and I think it's a difficult one.

BSBW: How important are families when mental illness strikes a loved one?

Michael Fitzpatrick: Without the engagement of families, America's mental health system falls apart. Because that's really the underpinning of the system and, and while the goal of everybody in the system is to have people find independence and recovery and return to their communities, ultimately it's still their families that provide them with a tremendous amount of support.

And that's why we have a course called Family to Family. We've had over 150,000 Americans take Family to Family course and what that does - it's a twelve week course, they really arm people with the knowledge they need to take care and support a family member with serious mental illness. And that's why a lot of our information is targeted and certainly the base of NAMI, when NAMI was created 29 years ago, was really to provide support to families.

BSBW: How prevalent is stigma relating to mental illness, and what are the consequences of this?

Michael Fitzpatrick: I think stigma is devastating for the person with mental illness and their family. I think stigma also stops people from going into treatment or certainly delays it. You see that all the time with families with children or with adolescents that they'll do everything they can to avoid going into the mental health system for treatment. That's absolutely a stigma. I think stigmas also allowed us to devalue people with serious mental illness and create a secondary system which are homeless shelters. Which are bringing mental health services into county jails and prisons for people that if you had a system in place wouldn't be there in the first place.

BSBW: How are many people getting the answers they need relating to mental illness?

Michael Fitzpatrick: People go on web sites or come to organizations like ours looking for basic services. That's how you find out about health related services in America. And so people have a real thirst for sort of basic information. And so when they go to a clinician and they say you have schizophrenia then they come to organizations like ours for more details. Now when they're given a medication then they come to sites like ours and they go on chat rooms to talk about ah, what the medication does and how effective it is, what the side effects are. So I think there's a much more vibrant, large community out there to get sort of basic information but -- I think information's power.

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