Next Steps Head Organizer is mental health policy expert, outspoken activist.
Fred Friedman is one of those people.
One of those people who lost everything to mental illness — his home, his job, his independence. One of those people who then rebuilt his life with a little help. And he’s one of those people who speaks out about it, often wearing his signature blue T-shirt that proudly proclaims: “I am one of those people.”
Friedman is a leading mental health public policy expert in Illinois who can comment on a wide range of related public policy issues. The former attorney offers the important perspective of someone who has used Illinois mental health services, who has suffered under their shortcomings, and who has devoted himself to eliminating those shortcomings.
Since co-founding Next Steps in 2005, the outspoken advocate has promoted his cause during countless meetings with legislators, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and other leaders around Illinois. Friedman knows how the system works, and how to make it work better.
His knowledge is enhanced by his experience. Friedman spent five weeks in a mental hospital, ten months in a homeless shelter and more than a year in a nursing home. None of these placements helped him get better. Friedman’s recovery started with his move out of a nursing home and into an apartment, with the help of a social services agency.
“When my symptoms were particularly acute, I lost nearly everything that was important to me.” Friedman said. “I lost my wife of 24 years, my profession of 20 years, and most of my possessions, including my home of 10 years.”
He has since rebuilt his life and worked to make sure important public policy decisions in Illinois include the input of people with mental illnesses.
“I’m grateful for our many allies who support us and our cause,” Friedman said. “But we cannot just rely on other people to advocate for us. People who use mental health services must also speak up for ourselves on these important issues.”
In 2009, Friedman joined other advocates in protests that halted the closures of four Chicago city mental health clinics used by thousands of people.
In 2010, Friedman joined protesters outside Gov. Pat Quinn’s house July 10 opposing budget cuts that could cause 60,000 people to lose mental health treatment. He participated in negotiations leading to passage of a nursing home safety law. Other achievements:
- State-certified Consumer Support Specialist, teaching a course in mental health recovery.
- Instructor, Chicago Police Department Crisis Intervention Team training program on officer responses to mental health crises.
- Board member of Thresholds, Equip for Equality, The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Chicago, and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Greater Chicago.
- Past Chair, Chicago Continuum of Care, which is enacting Chicago’s ten-year plan to end homelessness.