During an interview in his office in downtown Pawtucket earlier this week, Cure Alliance for Mental Illness founder Hakon Heimer explains that all the mental disorders combined have a higher burden than all the cancers combined, but receive only half the budget.
PAWTUCKET â From an unassuming, fourth-floor office in downtown Pawtucket, plans are underway to begin a national campaign to promote research on mental illness.
Cure Alliance for Mental Illness, headquartered at 255 Main St., is holding an official âlaunch partyâ on Thursday, Feb. 2 to make its presence known. The event will be held at the PeaceLove Studios, just down the street at 171 Main St., from 5:30 to 8 p.m. It will feature food, drinks, and music donated by local enterprises, as well as a raffle of art and culinary prizes. The suggested donation is $30, although everyone is welcome, no matter their budget, said Cure Alliance co-founder, Hakon Heimer.
According to Heimer, the Feb. 2 launch event is intended to serve two functions. âWe're calling it a 'friendraiser,' because we want to introduce the organization to people who want to help, while also raising money for start-up costs,â he said. He added that all donations to Cure Alliance for Mental Illness are 100 percent tax deductible.
Beyond the debut party lies a serious commitment from two individuals whose lives have been touchedâboth directly and indirectly--by mental illness, and who want to focus attention on the need for more research to find effective treatments. Cure Alliance for Mental Illness was founded by Heimer, a Rhode Island-based science editor whose brother suffers from schizophrenia, and Robin Cunningham, a retired finance banker from New Jersey who has lived successfully with his own schizophrenic disorder.
Heimer noted that while there are several existing national mental illness organizations, such as Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, they are devoted primarily with trying to protect basic care and services for people with mental illness. He said that no national group has devoted itself to fostering an understanding of the brain basis of mental disorders and to advocating for research to find better treatments. Cure Alliance, he said, will convene these and other groups to unite around specific research-focused advocacy campaigns.
Heimer said he had met Cunningham in New Jersey and was impressed with the way he had managed his schizophrenia and become a successful businessman, who then retired and became an advocate for research on the disease. He said that he and Cunningham decided to team up and use their experience in science and business to create a new organization that will put the spotlight on research, and help to bring in needed funding.
Primarily through their website, www.curealliance.org, and by organizing activities out of the Pawtucket office, the partners hope to eventually be able to open an advocacy office in the nation's capitol to be at the center of the political scene. âFrom here, we plan to create and organization that will pull people from the sidelines who haven't joined in the advocacy of mental illness. We will use the Internet and social media to bring a lot of people in in a way that you can't do otherwise without spending a lot of money,â he said.
âMental disorders are brain disorders, but in terms of research dollars, they are second-class citizens,â said Cunningham. âCure Alliance will convey a message that this is not acceptable, particularly by opening an advocacy office in Washington, DC, where we can bring the message directly to policymakers.â
For example, Cunningham pointed out that mental illness places an equal burden on the nation's population in the way of lost wages and productivity as that of cancer, yet the amount of dollars devoted to research is half that amount. âAs long as mental illness is represented as a special interest group, we'll never get the money we need to solve our problems,â he said. He noted that politicians have a limited amount of money to give to special interest groups, so if Cure Alliance can unite the enthusiasm of everyone involved with various aspects of mental illness, including family members, caregivers, and scientists, there is more likelihood of obtaining support.
Cunningham, who is currently working on a memoir of his experiences, also noted that science has made great strides in recent years in understanding many brain disorders and in developing effective treatments and possibly even cures. âSince we're on the cusp of finding some cures and good treatments, it makes economic sense to invest in this research because the payback will be phenomenal, economically and socially.â
For questions about the Feb. 2 event, contact Kate Lohman at 401-419-9180, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Anne Whitaker, 401-451-2638, email@example.com. For more information about Cure Alliance for Mental Illness, contact Hakon Heimer at 401-369-4017, firstname.lastname@example.org.