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Image Anand Pandya

Anand Pandya was nominated by NAMI New York State.  View the nomination letter from NAMI New York State. (pdf, opens in new window)

Each board candidate was asked to answer several questions relating to NAMI and the experience they bring to the board.  Each candidate was limited to 300 words for each answer.  Read Anand's answers below:

NAMI Self-Identification Statement

I have had several family members who have died by suicide. The case that has affected me the most is the death of my uncle who committed suicide while off of his medication. As a result his 3 daughters joined my family and were raised as sisters.

Why do you want to serve on the NAMI National board of directors? 

Thank you for the honor of serving on your board for 3 years. After years in the grassroots, it has been rewarding to bring my passions to national. As policy chair, I helped get PTSD into our policy platform, acknowledging countless suffering veterans. To increase the voice of the grassroots in NAMI, my term as Governance chair made it easier for affiliates to vote and increased the role of Councils at Board meetings. Dovetailing with my work as New Research Chair for the American Psychiatric Association, my work on the NAMI Research Gala helped raise funds, a prime responsibility of board members. As one of 4 graders, I became a part of the State Ratings Project, NAMI’s biggest media event ever. But as satisfying as all of that has been, the greatest reason why I want to continue my board work is because of my experience with Hurricane Katrina.

The NAMI grassroots have done extraordinary work after the hurricanes. The stories of affiliates helping families in need were profoundly moving and I feel blessed that NAMI solicited my help as a disaster psychiatry expert in planning their response.

My own experience providing psychiatric care to Katrina survivors taught me the same lessons that we all learned from dealing with mental illness:

  • Uncaring bureaucracies can make bad situations much worse.
  • Neighbors can help neighbors when government fails to provide leadership.
  • Forming a community, reuniting families, sharing information, & reducing the fear-of-the-unknown can give us the strength to do the long, slow work of rebuilding lives. This is the core of disaster response and the secret behind NAMI Family-to-Family.

These are lessons of Katrina, of NAMI, and of life. I hope you will let me continue to learn from all of you for another term on your board.

What financial management or fund raising expertise would you bring to the Board?

Fundraising and financial management are the prime responsibility of a board member. I learned this during my years as a member of the NAMI-New York City Metro and the NAMI New York State boards of directors. NAMI national has been gifted with a strong advocate for this responsibility in the form of departing board member Betsy Smith. I am proud to have served for 2 years on her Development Committee of NAMI national responsible for overseeing fundraising. Although it will be impossible for any one board member to fill her shoes, I look forward to continuing her work after her term ends this year and I am grateful for all that she has taught me about developing many different levels of giving. On the Development Committee, I was actively involved in the highly successful Research Gala last year. I served as the Co-Chair of the Scientific Nomination Committee for the award given at that event.

Outside of NAMI, I co-founded and serve as president for Disaster Psychiatry Outreach, a non-profit that has survived and thrived since 1998, providing hundreds of psychiatrists in response to the 9-11 attacks, the Tsunami in Sri Lanka, & Hurricane Katrina. The millions of dollars to provide these services and research were raised as a result of direct solicitations, governmental grants, corporate grants, foundation grants and fund-raising events. Aside from fundraising for DPO, I also serve on the Finance Committee for that organization.

What is the most pressing public policy issue facing NAMI members today?  What course of action do you suggest?

As Chair of the Policy Committee for NAMI, I am acutely aware that there are too many challenges to be covered in a brief statement. Nonetheless, here are a few of the gravest issues:

  • The many glitches with Medicare Part D and the risks of Medicaid reform pose a great challenge to the resources of NAMI. Traditionally, we have confronted issues on a state or federal level but these initiatives have created opportunities and challenges both at the federal level AND in all 50 states at the same time. NAMI national will need to develop a new way of doing business that creates greater communication between the states and national. I am proud to have been a part of such an initiative by co-chairing a meeting of the NAMI policy committee and the NAMI state relations committee. This allowed NAMI’s policy staff to listen to the regional reactions to the NAMI state ratings report and it taught representatives from the grassroots different ways to use the report.
  • After years of growth in research funding, NIMH is at risk. NIMH remains our greatest hope for objective data in the treatment of serious mental illnesses.
  • The criminalization of the mentally ill has been a problem since de-institutionalization yet new programs offer the hope to divert individuals from the correctional system and assist them in accepting treatment. NAMI has to support these initiatives – from CIT to Mental Health Courts. When I first joined the board of NAMI, there was resistance to endorsing CIT, because of a misinterpretation of existing policies. I am proud to have worked with the policy committee to clear the way so that NAMI can take positions on these important forensic innovations.  But more action is needed to help spread these programs nationwide.

What brought you to NAMI -- and what is most valuable to you about your participation in the NAMI movement?

As the son of a psychiatrist, when I was young I would visit my father at work in a large state psychiatric hospital, imagining that there was some safe divide between the people I saw there and my own family. As I grew up, I painfully learned that this wasn’t the case. My uncle’s suicide when I was a teenager taught me that. My uncle was on psychiatric medication but he did not have access to his medication when he died. He was a psychiatrist and was very close to his brother and sister who were also psychiatrists. I began to realize that all of the training and expertise could not protect my family from the lethal ravages of mental illness.

I also became a psychiatrist and as an adult I have learned what NAMI has to offer that I never got from my professional training. NAMI takes a position on legislation concerning housing and vocational rehabilitation. Psychiatry too often ignores these issues. In short, NAMI is the only group that I know that is truly concerned with all aspects of the lives of individuals with serious mental illness. We see the person, not the disease and we see their family, too. In contrast to the fears that I had as a teenager about my uncle’s disease, NAMI has given me hope that a caring community can provide a better safety net. I am not naïve. I know that we are not there. But I know that NAMI will not rest until we create that caring community for everyone suffering from these diseases.

What is the most pressing internal or organizational issue facing NAMI today?  What course of action do you suggest?

NAMI needs to find new ways to improve communication between its various levels. Not only is this necessary to address complex new policy issues affecting various levels, but it is also vital for our financial health. For NAMI national to grow, NAMI must grow nationally which means that each state and affiliate needs to be nurtured. What is the right balance between the efficiency of centralization and the diversity of the grassroots?  Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. Instead, we need to think about this question for every decision that we make. This means we need to strengthen the dialogue between the different levels of NAMI. I look forward to hearing from all of you about what information you need and how you would ideally want to get it. When I joined NAMI many years ago, there was a photocopied catalogue of resource materials available for affiliates. It always amazed me the number of affiliates that didn’t know of this catalogue. So many people who were active in NAMI had no idea what had already had been done and were “reinventing the wheel.” In the age of the internet and teleconferences, there are many ways to ensure that we all “check in” with each other. As an organization, we need to continue to experiment with the various ways to communicate to make sure that we all grow synergistically. Instead of just serving as a warehouse of resources so that affiliates can “pull” information, NAMI national needs to find creative ways to “push” important information into the hands of the grassroots who don’t always have time to look at our websites or come to national meetings. We need to make NAMI educational programs more easily available throughout the country. With improved communication, anything is possible.