NAMI California Monthly Newsletter
March 2016
ConferenceConference News

2016 NAMI California Annual Conference

Learn what's new in mental health at the  2016 NAMI California Annual Conference  August 26 & 27 in Burlingame! We are thrilled to announce this year's keynote speakers will be Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, and Professor Cyndi Shannon Weickert, a leading schizophrenia researcher. We have an exciting lineup of sessions focusing on advocacy, criminal justice, consumer and family engagement, transitional age youth, diverse communities, and strengthening NAMI - plus inspirational talks and practical workshops. 

Click here to reserve your room
or call (888) 236-2427 or (650) 692-9100 and ask for the NAMI California group rate. Make your reservations early, as space is limited and rooms fill up fast!
NAMI California Annual Conference website
Keynote Speaker
Professor Cyndi Shannon Weickert
Leading Schizophrenia Researcher

Keynote Speaker
Father Greg Boyle
Founder, Homeboy Industries
Conversation30 Second Survey
SurveyFirst Experiences With Mental Health Services

Thank you for your responses to our last 30 Second Survey question, "What  was your experience the first time you accessed mental health services for yourself or a loved one?"
Survey responders said their first contact was with a health care provider, counselor, behavioral health center or mental health hospital, while a few called NAMI. Reports of first experiences with mental health services ranged from excellent or good to bureaucratic, unprofessional or even traumatic.
A sampling of your comments:
  • "I took my son to (the mental health clinic). I thought he had overdosed on drugs and had no idea he had a serious mental illness."
  • "Experience at the behavioral health center was not positive. Staff seemed bored and not sympathetic to pain family was experiencing." 
  • "Had my mental health needs been better addressed early on, I believe I would have saved needless years of suffering."
  • "Excellent, except that this was before parity, so the HMO wanted $500 a day for psychiatric hospitalization."
  • "(The hospital's) ER nurses and physicians are untrained in mental health, rude to patients, do not practice patient confidentiality, and treat patients like criminals."
This month's survey: 
What has your experience been in a crisis situation with ambulance staff? Fire department crews? 
How could they improve the experience?

StaffMeet Your NAMI California Staff

Jessica Cruz

When you meet NAMI California Executive Director Jessica Cruz, it quickly becomes clear she's an enthusiastic champion of NAMI and a tenacious force for mental health. She speaks earnestly about her vision for NAMI California and her compassion for those affected by mental illness. "NAMI is my life," she says. "I love my job. I'm lucky to be in this position."

But six years ago, before she interviewed with NAMI California, Jessica had never heard of the National Alliance on Mental Illness - even though she grew up with a mother who battled borderline personality disorder. Looking back, she calls her introduction to NAMI serendipitous. "I cried in my interview," she says. "I asked, 'Why didn't I know about this before?'"

Jessica was hired as Deputy Director and was soon promoted to Executive Director. Ever since, she's been on a mission to make NAMI a household name so other individuals and families living with mental illness know immediately where to turn for answers. "When people think of mental illness, I want them to think of NAMI first," she says. "I want NAMI to be considered the agency on mental illness."

"When people think of mental illness, I want them to think of NAMI first.  I want NAMI to be considered the agency on mental illness."

After starting her new job, Jessica signed up for a Family-to-Family class offered by NAMI Sacramento. The class gave her a newfound understanding of her mother's mental illness and crystallized her commitment to NAMI. "NAMI saved my life," she says. "The Family-to-Family class gave me confidence to talk about mental illness and compassion towards my mother. It also taught me how to set boundaries."

Under Jessica's leadership, NAMI California has tripled its staff, tripled its budget, forged new alliances, launched innovative programs and expanded existing ones. Current priorities include shaping sound mental health policy, decriminalizing mental illness, reducing stigma, building capacity for NAMI affiliates, creating new partnerships, reaching out to diverse communities, and ensuring individuals and families living with mental illness have access to the services and support they need.

Jessica is proud of the NAMI California's progress, giving credit to the entire organization, including the board, staff and affiliates. "You can't win a basketball game alone - you have to have a team," she explains, borrowing an analogy from her favorite sport. She also acknowledges the achievements of past NAMI California leaders. "I stand on the shoulders of giants. The people who came before me are my heroes. They set the groundwork for what we do."

Jessica is encouraged to see attitudes toward mental illness starting to shift. The more people feel comfortable discussing mental health, the more likely they are to seek treatment earlier and achieve recovery. "Mental illness is a hot topic now," she says. "People are finally talking about it. But there is still a long way to go."

Despite the inevitable obstacles ahead, Jessica is determined to continue to advocate for those living with mental illness. "I don't ever give up. I have a passion for change, a passion for people, a passion to make this world a better place, a passion for NAMI."

 "I don't ever give up. I have a passion for change, a passion for people, a passion to make this world a better place, a passion for NAMI."

Jessica lives in Sacramento with her husband, Markam, 7-year-old daughter, Ella, and 4-year-old son, M.J, along with their golden retriever, Rudy. An avid sports fan, she played basketball in college and still shoots hoops with her husband, a physical education teacher.

Jessica previously served as the Executive Director of Muscular Dystrophy Association and worked in key positions at the California Hospital Association and the California Broadcasters Association. She holds a Master's of Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Services from the University of San Francisco and a BA in Mass Communications from California State University at Sacramento, where she is a guest professor. She is a graduate of the USF Leadership Institute, the USC Leadership Institute and the Nonprofit Resource Center Executive Director Leadership Institute. 

Jessica was recently appointed to the Commission on Mentally Ill Offenders and is a member of the CalSWEC Board, California WET Advisory Board, Health Education Foundation Advisory Board, Sacramento Professional Women's Association, the Nonprofit Resource Center, Association of Fundraising Professionals, and a past Board Secretary of the Sacramento Public Relations Association.
AdvocacyAdvocacy & Legislation
NAMI Smarts for Advocacy participants in Solano County

NAMI Smarts For Advocacy In Solano County

Community members from Sacramento, Solano, Mendocino, Yolo, and Contra Costa counties came together to build advocacy skills, share their lived experiences, and offer perspectives on improving mental health services at the NAMI Smarts for Advocacy training in Solano County.

Our time together was spent focusing our stories to develop a powerful ask to influence local and state policies. We also held a very informative and interactive panel discussion with MHSA county representatives, where members shared creative ways to increase stakeholder input. "We left with some really great ideas on how we can continue to build our relationships with consumer and family-led groups," said one MHSA panelist.

NAMI Smarts for Advocacy trainings provide an opportunity to practice telling your story to develop a powerful ask in two minutes or less. Participants reported feeling more confident and poised to share their stories with policy makers at mental health board meetings and legislative hearings as well as with their district representatives. For information on advocacy trainings, contact Marcel Harris at
NAMI Family and Peer Support Specialist Program

Considering helping a family member or peer affected by mental illness but don't know how to get started? NAMI invites family members and individuals from all walks of life to take part in the Family and Peer Support Specialist Program. 

The program consists of 70 hours of specialized training to obtain the tools and skills to understand areas including suicide prevention, recovery model, cultural competency, trauma informed services, motivational interviewing, triggers, etc. By the end of the program, you will be equipped with the necessary skills and support from your local NAMI affiliate to go out into the community to volunteer or secure a paid position within a wide range of behavioral positions. 

To participate in the program, you must be a person with an immediate family member who has a mental illness and/or an individual living with a diagnosed mental illness who has achieved mental health recovery.

If you want to help your own family or community, consider taking part in the Family and Peer Support Specialist Program. The change starts one person at a time. 

For more information about the program, please contact Zuleima Flores at
NAMI California's table at the CSNO Annual Conference

California School Nurses Organization Conference
NAMI California recently attended the California School Nurses Organization's 66th Annual Conference in Fresno. This was a great opportunity to speak to a range of professionals in the school health system about NAMI California's youth programs and family and peer programs. 

Conference participants were able to receive information on Ending the Silence, NAMI on Campus College & High School, In Our Own Voice, Provider Education, Parents & Teachers as Allies as well as Family-to-Family, Family Support Group, Basics, Peer-to-Peer and Connection Support Group. Participants also learned about Each Mind Matters and what the green ribbon stands for. 

It was a very enlightening experience to see so many participants excited about having NAMI California at the conference and provide such a large amount of gratitude and positive feedback. 
AffiliatesAffiliate News
Templeton Behavioral Health Hospital Approved

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved the proposal for the Templeton Behavioral Health Hospital, which had faced a mixture of opposition and support from the community. The plan is for a 91-bed facility across from Twin Cities Community Hospital, allowing for an excellent continuum of care. More than 25 NAMI members, including  Darryl Elliott,  President of NAMI  San Luis Obispo County, attended the hearing, with  NAMI California, NAMI Ventura and NAMI Santa Barbara also offering
letters of support. S peakers shared heartfelt stories and explained the need for a psychiatric facility in the area. Thank you to everyone who spoke and sent letters to the Board of Supervisors!

Don't miss the chance to save on registration for the NAMI National Convention in Denver! Register by March 31 and receive the special Super Saver rate of $215.

The NAMI National Convention, July 6-9 in Denver, is the largest national gathering of mental health advocates in the United States. The convention educates, encourages and empowers a diverse community that is passionate about building better lives for people affected by mental illness. This year's theme is "Act. Advocate. Achieve."

The convention has an outstanding selection of policy and education sessions, research updates, an advancing recovery program track, workshops and more.

We welcome your submissions for the NAMI California monthly newsletter. We look for articles from our affiliates and members across the state that highlight the best of what's happening in California.  Please keep the length of your submission to 250 words or less, and include a contact name, email and phone number in case we need to reach you for more information. We love photos, so please send a picture if you have one. We regret that we cannot publish all submissions, and we reserve the right to edit all content.
Email your submissions to Thank you, and we look forward to hearing from you!
DonateDonate to NAMI California


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