The new director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness doesn’t take command of our nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization until January 2nd, but Mary Giliberti already is being grilled by long-time NAMI activist Dr. E. Fuller Torrey.
Torrey, who has been critical of NAMI lately, has fired off a letter demanding the new director publicly state her views about the closing of state hospitals. Torrey and his followers are suspicious of Giliberti because she once worked for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a driving force behind “deinstitutionalization.” Bazelon also strongly opposes the passage of Assistant Outpatient Treatment laws, which Torrey endorses.
I warned readers earlier this year of a split that was forming between NAMI members. NAMI was formed by parents who were frustrated with the mental health system, but in recent years more and more consumers have joined its ranks and some of them are opposed to issues that NAMI has traditional supported.
Torrey has become the de facto leader of the so-called “NAMI CLASSICS” who believe NAMI should focus on serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. This group is largely pro-medication and pro Assisted Outpatient Treatment laws, which require individuals who have multi-hospitalizations and/or violent pasts to be forcibly treated. In recent years, more and more consumers (persons with mental illnesses) have joined NAMI and they often oppose “paternalism” in favor of self-determination.
Although Torrey helped build NAMI into the most influential mental health organization in the nation, he angered many when he created his own non-profit, the Treatment Advocacy Center, to push for passage of AOT laws as well as other changes. A favorite speaker at past NAMI national conventions, Torrey has not been invited to speak in recent years and the last time his name was raised, some board members threatened to boycott the convention if he appeared. This year, NAMI invited journalist Robert Whitaker, known for his books that question the use of anti-psychotics, a move that would have been unheard only a few years ago.