“Mental Illness, Stigma and Positive Change”

Mental illness affects 1 in 5 individuals and families directly – and many more through their jobs, in their neighborhood, their workplace, their taxes, and their faith and other communities. How does stigma fit in? What programs are available to help? What can individuals do and how can society and policymakers affect positive change?

Kathryn (Kate) Farinholt is the Executive Director of NAMI Maryland (National Alliance on Mental Illness). More than 30 years ago, NAMI members helped Kate’s parents advocate for her sister with schizophrenia. In 1997 Kate was recruited to be a local and state NAMI board member and soon became the local affiliate’s first Executive Director. Under Kate’s direction, her affiliate was chosen in 2004 as the “Outstanding Local NAMI Affiliate” from over 1500 local affiliates for its integration of consumers of mental health services at all levels, its advocacy and education on criminal justice and other issues, its focus on diversity and its regional impact. Kate became the Executive Director of the NAMI state organization, NAMI Maryland, in 2011.

Among her many awards, she especially treasures the national NAMI Executive Director Peer Excellence Award she received in 2008, and the American Psychiatric Association’s 2018 APEX award for outstanding service. She was also chosen as one of the Daily Record’s “Most Admired CEOs” in 2018.

Kate is a strong advocate on issues affecting people with mental illness and their families. She has developed ways to engage and empower these stakeholders in advocacy and systems improvement and to fill gaps in programs and resources. Kate has helped develop and/or pilot numerous nationally recognized peer-led NAMI signature and emerging programs, including the NAMI family and individual peer support group models and peer facilitator trainings. The NAMI In Our Own Voice: Living with Mental Illness program she co-developed, and her Ambassadors program include intensive training to comfortably and effectively share personal stories to inform different audiences. She has developed numerous workshops and trainings for individuals (and families) directly affected by mental illness to deliver to various audiences: to “make it real’, break down myths and offer practical tips for effective communication and engagement.

Kate works on policy issues relating to: children and youth, homelessness, diversity, acute care, health disparities, integration of primary and mental health care, substance use and mental illness, and criminal justice. She has been nationally recognized for her work on crisis programs, criminal justice staff training, criminal justice reform, consumer and family peer programming, and empowerment and engagement of individuals and relatives in treatment, program design and implementation, and research.

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