In April 2017, my longtime neighbors and friends—a husband, wife, and their 24-year-old daughter—were tragically killed by their son/brother, a young man suffering from a psychotic episode brought on by a serious and under treated mental illness. After learning about this family's struggle to get their loved one appropriate help in Iowa, a state with a broken mental healthcare system at the time, I was galvanized to get involved. 

I first wrote about the story of my neighbors in an essay for The Des Moines Register, and followed up with a profile of three Iowa families also struggling to get sufficient and appropriate mental healthcare for a loved one. In late 2017, I gave an interview with OZY magazine about the gutted state of Iowa's mental healthcare system, and in 2019, I started volunteering for PEN America's Prison & Justice Writing Program with a particular focus on the mass incarceration of mentally ill individuals.  

I'm also a member of NAMI- Greater Des Moines (National Alliance for Mental Illness), an excellent organization that provides education, resources, and support for individuals and their families struggling with mental illness. Through NAMI and along with other state-wide advocates, I've lobbied my state senators and representatives each year for critical mental healthcare legislation reform.

If interested, you can learn more about our legislative progress here:

Mental Health Advocates Cheer Action to Mend Iowa's Frayed System, Des Moines Register

Gov. Reynolds Signs Iowa's Mental Health, Suicide Prevention Bills In Emotional Ceremony, Des Moines Register

Children's Mental Health System Signed Into Law, Iowa Public Radio

Today, I continue to work with my local NAMI chapter on the next legislative priorities, help raise money, and have two new book projects in the works with strong mental illness threads. If you would like to get involved in metal health, or need support or resources, the national NAMI website is a great place to start. 

As my friend and fellow Iowa advocate Leslie says, we can do better. We must do better. 

Much love and hope to all of you out there fighting this good fight. 



2019 Kali White VanBaale