Eve Oliphant, one of NAMI’s leading founders, died this week in California at the age of 90. She was the subject of the PBS documentary, When Medicine Got It Wrong that has aired in many cities around the country this year, about NAMI’s dramatic origins as a grassroots movement.
Oliphant addressed the World Congress on Psychiatry in 1977, calling on the profession to recognize the role and needs of families in treatment and recovery—and criticizing the medical establishment for still embracing the textbook theory of the "schizophrenogenic mother," which blamed families for mental illness.
“We failed to understand why parents of a child with leukemia were treated with sympathy and understanding, while parents of a child with schizophrenia were treated with scorn and condemnation,” she declared.
Phyllis Vine, editor of MIWatch.org, called Oliphant “outspoken, spunky, and fearless” in leading marches, letter writing campaigns and lobbying of elected officials. As a leading advocate, she participated in the 1979 meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, where NAMI was founded.
From the Madison meeting, individuals and families affected by mental illness rose out of isolation, anxiety and anger to become a force to be reckoned with at local, state and national levels a legacy.
Along with Harriet Shetler another leading NAMI founder who died earlier this year, Oliphant would be one of the first to say—there’s still much work to be done. NAMI thanks her legacy.