Mental health advocate leaves longtime role

Retiree will be missed at South Community Behavioral.He’ll stay with statewide organization, NAMI.

A longtime advocate for mental health recovery retired on May 29 after nearly 35 years working for South Community Behavioral Healthcare in Kettering. Lee Dunham was chief of Recovery Services, overseeing programs that served people with severe mental illnesses and chemical dependencies.

“My staff would go out to clients’ residences most of the time,” said Dunham, a 30-year resident of Miami Twp. “This ACT program, Assertive Community Treatment, would work when they didn’t have success with other programs.”

Dunham indicated that there are a lot of misconceptions about mental health.

“Most people think that those suffering from mental health issues are violent, but they are much more likely to be victims of violence themselves,” Dunham said. “One in four people will be treated for a mental illness sometime during their life. The stigma is still very great.”

When Dunham started working in the mental health field 43 years ago, most patients were institutionalized in state hospitals, and when they did get out there wasn’t enough money for follow-up treatment.

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“Today, the mental health population in Ohio prisons is 11,000. There are only 1,000 patients in all six state hospitals combined,” said Dunham. “There is a huge disparity in treatment resources across the state.”

He’s familiar with state statistics because he is president of NAMI Ohio based in Columbus. The National Alliance on Mental Illness was created in 1982 by a small group of families that were unhappy with current treatments for serious brain disorders.

“I got involved 13 years ago. It’s the largest grassroots organization in the country, providing education, support and advocacy,” Dunham said.

Dunham grew up in Cincinnati and graduated from Lasalle High School. He was discharged from the Army in 1972. He earned a political science degree from the University of Cincinnati, and a master’s in social work from Ohio State University.

He will continue to work at NAMI to encourage people to obtain treatment.

As far as South Community Behavioral Healthcare is concerned, he said, “I will miss the people that I work with, the chance to make a difference, and the opportunity to create innovative ways to serve clients.”

When he’s not continuing to advocate for NAMI, he plans on taking his 22-foot Catalina sailboat out on Caesar Creek Lake with his wife, Debby. The couple have two grown children and five grandchildren who all live within 30 minutes.

“You have to work with the elements when you sail. It’s mentally stimulating and relaxing at the same time,” said Dunham. “This will be the first summer I’ve had off in 50 years. I’m a lucky man across the board.”

While he will miss his co-workers and others at SCBH, there are those who will miss him, as well.

“We will miss Lee’s valuable contributions in service to the clients we help by offering in a calm sincere manner the essence of hope,” said South Community Behavioral Health CEO/president Carol Smerz. “Lee will also be missed for his strong leadership skills; he is truly an advocate for the people we serve and goes the extra mile in helping them.”

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