Patrick J. McNamara, CEO of Palm Health Foundation. Photo provided
By Jan Engoren
Patrick J. McNamara, CEO of Palm Health Foundation, is leading the charge for better mental health.
The Boynton Beach resident reminds us that May is Mental Health Awareness Month and says Palm Health Foundation, a nonprofit that is taking the initiative to advocate for better mental health care in Palm Beach County, partnered with bewellpbc.org to raise awareness of brain and mental health issues.
Green is the color of Mental Health Awareness Month and McNamara, 52, encourages people to “get your green on.”
“We have shifted from thinking about mental health primarily in terms of psychiatric disorders to thinking about brain health, a broader category that considers health as well as disease,” he says.
Originally from New Orleans, McNamara came to this field while studying political science at Georgetown University on an Army ROTC scholarship when his older brother Michael McNamara took his own life in 1989.
Through the Palm Health Foundation, he created the Mike McNamara Scholarship Fund in his brother’s memory.
“Our untreated mental illness, addiction and suicide are in direct proportion to our tendency to take one another for granted,” he wrote in a 2016 tribute to his brother.
Five of his seven siblings suffered from mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and eating and bipolar disorders.
He switched his major to psychology, became a licensed clinical social worker, earning his MSW from Tulane University, and now heads a $100 million foundation with a vision for all Palm Beach County residents to thrive and reach their full health potential.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that nearly one in five adults and nearly one in two adolescents live with a mental illness such as anxiety or depression.
And, a study conducted this year by Dana Foundation and Research America found that about 8 in 10 Americans are affected by brain health issues.
Three of the U.S. Surgeon General’s priorities include a focus on brain health, health worker burnout and youth mental health.
“Mental health exists on a continuum from illness to wellness,” McNamara says. “Currently, we are ill-equipped to meet our mental health needs.”
Improving access to care and reducing long waiting lists for services, especially for kids and for those without mental health insurance, will help. So will having more mental health service providers, including psychiatrists, nurses, licensed mental health counselors and clinical social workers.
“It’s not an us vs. them issue,” says McNamara. “The reality is we all have mental health and lie somewhere along the continuum. We’re making progress on the stigma but need to do better, especially in Florida.
“Everybody has a role to play,” he says. “We’re asking for a change in mind-set and understanding.”
McNamara leads the Palm Health Foundation NeuroArts Collaborative, which focuses on the convergence among science, the arts and technology and the effects of these experiences on brain, body and overall health.
“Besides biochemical interventions, expressive therapies such as talk and art therapies have been shown to change your brain,” McNamara says.
The collaborative includes the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County, and The Palm Beaches.
The collaborative also has aligned with the NeuroArts Blueprint, a joint venture with Johns Hopkins International Arts + Mind Lab Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics and the Aspen Institute.
“Healthy social relationships, good nutrition and exercise can all support positive brain health,” McNamara says.
To keep his brain healthy, McNamara, a married father of three, exercises daily, reads voraciously and practices Catholic-centered mindful meditation. He is part of a men’s book club — on its 78th book by a recent count.
One he recommends is Thomas Insel’s Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health.
“We should not accept our status quo,” McNamara says. “We need to do better for our loved ones who are suffering, while supporting and championing those on the front lines.”
At the Community Foundation’s annual Founders Luncheon in February, he quoted President John F. Kennedy, whose family also struggled with mental health.
“The mentally ill need no longer be alien to our affections or beyond the help of our communities,” he said.
Jan Engoren writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.