Dr. Ralph Nelson, former NAMI California President and NAMI national board member, has resigned from the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC) after serving for five years. NAMI California would like to express our deep gratitude to Dr. Nelson for his service on the Commission as well as for his years of work on behalf of individuals and families living with mental illness.
Ralph and Denise Nelson have been tireless proponents of mental health reform since the 1990s, when their son was first hospitalized. “We found very quickly that we had little say and had little knowledge of what was going on,” he says. “It was an eye-opener.”
After joining a family support group organized by what is now NAMI Tulare County, the Nelsons soon joined the board and helped incorporate the group as a not-for-profit corporation, growing the membership and expanding its programs.
Nelson was elected to the NAMI California Board of Directors in 2002, serving as President from 2004 to 2008 and Chair of the NAMI States Presidents’ Council for two years. Nelson was a member of NAMI’s national board from 2009 to 2015, serving as Treasurer for three years.
As NAMI California President, Nelson was a forceful advocate for Proposition 63 and the Mental Health Services Act as well as criminal justice reform. He credits the MHSA as a critical turning point for Californians living with mental illness.
“The Mental Health Services Act changed how the state of California approached mental health services,” Nelson says. “Until the Act, there was no push for recovery, resilience and wellness – and that is a goal that every person with mental illness should have. The whole system changed its focus to trying to promote those principles so more people could have self-determination about their lives. (Before the MHSA), there wasn’t a lot of hope. Since 2004, that’s dramatically changed.”
In late December 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Nelson to the MHSOAC. Nelson came in with a clear vision of his role as commissioner: “I wanted to make sure that individuals living with mental illness and their families who were at the lower rungs of the ladder of recovery had a voice in California and the MHSOAC,” he says.
Nelson chaired the MHSOAC Client and Family Leadership Committee for the last three years of his tenure, expanding the scope and quality of community forums, educating citizens and elected officials across the state about the Mental Health Services Act and the OAC, and giving a voice to individuals with mental illness, their family members and mental health providers.
Nelson is the chair of the Tulare County Mental Health Board and serves on the board of NAMI Tulare County, where his wife, Denise Nelson, is President. He is a former member of the California Collaborative Justice Court Advisory Committee and the California State Licensing and Certification Advisory Committee. Nelson worked as a radiologist from 1973 until his retirement in 1999.
In 2012, NAMI California honored Ralph and Denise Nelson with the Don & Peggy Richardson Memorial Award. Nelson says he could not have done his advocacy work without the support and the sage advice of his wife as well as the friendship and counsel of three mentors: Darlene Prettyman, Sharon Roth and Grace McAndrews.
NAMI California encourages our members who are interested in serving on the MHSOAC to apply for an appointment to the Commission. Please click here for an application.