California District 15 Senator Jim Beall recognized Women’s
history Month this Monday by honoring NAMI Santa Clara County President Kathy
Forward and five others at a “Women of the Year” event.
Forward was congratulated as a Lifetime Achievement honoree
and was given a plaque by Beall.
“I am very honored to receive the award on behalf of NAMI
Santa Clara County,” Kathy stated following the ceremony. “It is for all the
women (and men) past and present who work tirelessly to eliminate stigma and
discrimination about mental illness.”
Ms. Forward has several family members diagnosed with mental
illness and was fortunate to be in the first class – titled “Family to Family: The
Keys to Understanding” – for families dealing with mental illness in Santa
Clara County in 1997.
She has been one of the principal leaders at NAMI Santa
Clara County since that time as a volunteer teacher, trainer, and eventually as
Education Director in 2005. In that position, Forward trained scores of NAMI
teachers in the 11-week course given to family members who are supporting loved
ones with mental illness.
Throughout her journey, she credited her mother for teaching
her the concept of stigma in regards to mental illness, and the eventual goal
of ridding it.
“My mother who was labeled a ‘schizophrenic mother’
volunteered at NAMI Santa Clara County for many years in the late 70s for over
20 years on the Warmline,” she explained. “Someone at our office asked me how
I’ve kept my advocacy going for so many years. My first response is my anger
and grief. This has become the basis for my advocacy. Not only my own feelings
with three loved ones, but also the families and those with mental health
challenges who share their experiences about lack of treatment, stigma and
discrimination with our Warmline every day.”
Kathy became the board president and served for two years
starting in 2010 to begin building the staff infrastructure of NAMI Santa Clara
County and assure that the many programs it had developed were sustained.
She has worked closely with numerous mental health
organizations over the years with the goal of helping those organizations
understand that family and peer support are critical elements for a person
struggling with mental illness.
Kathy speaks in front of diverse and varied forums,
including medical groups, faith communities, educational associations, employer
groups, and mental health organizations, and has a close relationship with
Stanford, Kaiser, and Good Samaritan Hospitals.