Better Humans: Message from Our Executive Director

By Erin R. Ryan

I had a recent discussion with a colleague about “Better Humans: What the Mental Health Pandemic Teaches Us About Humanity,” a book by Janeane Bernstein that addresses our mental health crisis. I first met Janeane as a guest on her “Outside the Box” podcast, a wonderful and safe space for truth to shine. I was honored to be asked to write the forward to her book, which features authentic stories of the previously untold silent battles with mental health and the voices of youth, our future leaders in this space. (Read my forward here.)

Talk of the book led to a broader discussion inspired by its title: being better humans.

I can think of no better aspiration! There’s no doubt about the fact that we are living in trying times. So many of us are recovering from the experience of living through a global pandemic. More recently, we have been heartbroken about the tragedies unfolding in the Middle East. (We recently held a mindfulness session; see the video replay here.) When the world is mourning losses of this kind, it presents unique challenges for our NAMI community. We work every day to help improve the lives of those impacted by mental health conditions and we see far too many community members struggling.

As I asked in the forward to her book: “How can we be better? How can we do better for ourselves and others?”

For one, we can be inspired by those leading by example. Recently, we have felt especially grateful to those committed to having an impact, from team members stepping up to lend support to others to elected leaders passing new laws to serve community members in need.

At the state level, we were honored to be present to witness Governor Newsom signing legislation to modernize and improve the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), essentially transforming California’s mental health and substance use disorder treatment systems for the first time in decades; and introducing a $6.38 billion bond (Prop 1) to build new behavioral health housing and treatment settings across the state, which Californians can vote for on the March 2024 ballot. Our own Jolissa Heberd shared her courageous story before the pivotal signing (see her testimony at 28:28 in this video linked here) and staff and community members were also present, including Cynthia Sirota and Garrett Shaw. We thank NAMI California for their tireless advocacy efforts, local lawmakers who pushed for this reform, and our community members who supported it.

At the national level, it was inspiring to hear that Senator Alex Padilla is launching the Senate’s first Mental Health Caucus for raising awareness of and destigmatizing mental health issues. Read more here.

Locally, we have too many community members, local leaders, and partners to name here! Every day I find inspiration and hope from our team members who show up and shine a light. Community members also show how to be better, including the educators and counselors who welcome us into their schools and community partners who help us spread the word and support our work. We often say we are stronger together and I believe that. More importantly, we are better together.