National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Image Jim Randall

Jim Randall was nominated by NAMI San Fernando Valley (CA).  View the nomination letter from NAMI San Fernando Valley. (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 Jim's answers below:

NAMI Self-Identification Statement

My brother, sister and niece all have schizophrenia.  I grew up with my brother and sister, both significantly older, battling their illness.  My brother and sister have spent most of their adult lives living on the street.  I was my brother’s conservator for several years until recently.

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

NAMI is once again on the precipice of great things.  That national rating of the state’s departments of mental health should be just the beginning.   As a new board member, I want to help fulfill our organization’s tremendous promise.   We owe it to all the families and consumers who have come before us, who built an organization from nothing.  We owe it to all the families and consumers that will come after us, who will someday deal with the terrible struggle that mental illness brings.

I would bring greater attention and focus to the criminalization of people with a mental illness.   The fact we stick human beings in jails and prisons for behavior caused by a biological disorder is nothing short of a crime against humanity.  If given the honor of being elected to the board, I will push NAMI to bring heightened scrutiny and advocacy to this issue. 

There exists a natural tension between the three tiers of NAMI; national, state, and affiliate.   Each level feels under appreciated by the others; each level doesn’t seem to understand the value of what the other two truly deliver.  As a former affiliate President, and former President of a council of 14 affiliates (the NAMI Los Angeles County Coordinating Council) I’ve developed significant experience in understanding the issues faced by an affiliate, both large and small.   This knowledge will allow me to be a vigorous spokesperson of the affiliate perspective at the national level.  

Finally, not enough people know NAMI.   With experience gained as an affiliate President and from my current position as an Outreach Coordinator for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health,   I can provide expertise on how we should increase awareness of NAMI. 

I would be very honored to serve on the NAMI national board.

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

As the NAMI Los Angeles County Walk Manager for 2006, I gained significant fundraising experience.   I learned the most important component to successful fundraising is simply a willingness to ask.  And by asking for money, we provide donors the opportunity to do tremendous good. 

By soliciting for donations and making follow up phone calls, I personally raised more than $50,000 for the Los Angeles NAMI Walk, I’m told the second highest total in the country.  I would bring that desire and willingness to fundraise to the national board.

While I’ve never worked as a financial manager, I have experience with financial analysis.  After earning a MBA in Financial Management from the University of New Mexico in 1995, I’ve done cost analysis and suggested pricing for several technology start-ups I’ve worked with.    I’m very comfortable reading financial statements and closely watching for dangerous trends.  I would not hesitate asking the ‘What If” questions that managers need to hear.

My education, experience, and familiarity with basic financial issues will be an important asset in helping to keep the national organization on track.

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

The most pressing public policy issue is the fact the mental health care system does not like to treat people with the most extreme forms of mental illness.  The system would rather let these individuals reside in prison or prowl the back alleys of our city streets instead of giving them the care they deserve.

There are several causes.   First, every person with a severe mental illness deserves an ACT team, where a case worker is assigned no more than 15 individuals to help them manage their illness.  This approach has been proven to be the best kind of outpatient care.  While expensive, roughly $15,000 a year in California, it is the most humane and the most appropriate.  But we still battle ignorance in our policy makers and in the public who think mental illness is a choice or a weakness and don’t recognize the terrible struggle associated with brain disorders.  NAMI must do whatever it can to erase this ignorance and make the public understand that the expenditure is worth it, both in dollar terms and in human decency.

Another cause is the public’s lack of acceptance of involuntary treatment as a necessary alternative for some.   Letting people be sent to prison or live in abject conditions on the street because of choices dictated by a brain disorder is unconscionable.

Consumers who say they despise involuntary treatment after poor quality outpatient treatment make a valid point.   But if a person is extremely ill and has either failed with good outpatient care or is facing jail time because of behavior caused by their mental illness, they deserve at least a chance at recovery with involuntary care.  

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

My older brother and sister both have schizophrenia and they have spent most of their adult lives living on the street.  Their illness was particularly acute when they first got sick and the mental health care system particularly unresponsive.  For almost a decade, my parents struggled to care for them while they suffered through, for the most part, untreated mental illness.  We eventually lost contact with them both.  The helplessness and shame was tremendous.

I first heard of NAMI about 10 years ago, in my mid-thirties.  I remember the first task I volunteered for was taking home some envelopes to be stamped.  I can remember stamping those envelopes alone at my coffee table, breaking down into tears.  I’m not a big crier, but this was a moment where I didn’t feel helpless, where I felt I was doing something.  This was my introduction to NAMI.

I eventually began to teach the Family to Family course.  I learned techniques on how to speak to a person with a mental illness and I more fully realized that mental illness truly is a brain disorder.

This is especially important because I later ran into my brother after not seeing him for almost 25 years.   He was panhandling outside a 7-11.   With the knowledge I had gained from NAMI, I was better able to help him.  He now lives in a board and care and has an ACT supervising his care. 

My sister’s story was similar, I would see her every few years.  Most recently I was able to get her off the street.  I owe NAMI for what it taught me. Without NAMI, I would probably still feel helpless.  And without NAMI, my brother and sister would still probably be on the street.

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

Not enough people know who we are. We could help more people if there was simply a greater community awareness of our existence. .

Solving this problem is not a simple task. The best way to achieve greater recognition of our organization has been a subject of debate almost certainly from the day of its creation.  But there are certain things that can be done on a national level that would help the broader goal of increased NAMI awareness.

First, attack an issue as a call to arms.  Say the criminalization of people with a mental illness is an abomination and should not be tolerated.  The rating of the states mental health departments was terrific, but now let’s identifies ourselves with an issue that will force more media exposure.

Second, recognizing that successful outreach is, for the most part, done locally, work to strengthen the affiliate’s ability to market itself.   While this is done currently, make it one of the highest priorities.  Create a set of best practices to increase NAMI’s exposure and then continually remind our membership what must be done. Show what has worked elsewhere, show why it’s successful.  Hammer home the message of outreach on an ongoing, continual basis.  

Third, help the local affiliates professionalize.   The Walk Program has brought in lots of money to new affiliates, now we struggle to find the best way to utilize it.  Show us how we can have a professional organization locally and what can be achieved. If we stop relying so much on volunteers and have more paid staff, then more of our organizational energy can be devoted towards outreach.

Greater public awareness will always be difficult.  But let’s have a game plan to achieve the goal.