The importance of AMHF and why I am involved

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Professionally, I had wanted to be a meterologist; but I changed course, and my training transformed into the literary life. Following my B.A. in English Literature from CCNY, which had begun its bold Open Enrollment policy the year I arrived, I was accepted into the PhD program at the University of Toronto. I gathered my MA in one year. Instead of making a go of it in the academic world, I sought a more practical application of my knowledge. I joined Crown Publishers in 1976 as a manuscript reader and aspiring editor, and worked for a number of topnotch literary agents and publishers in that capacity for several years afterward. This led to a part-time job with Frederick Ungar Publishing, Ungar being among the great generation of European-Jewish emigrés. (Whatever German-language authors Alfred Knopf did not translate, Ungar did, including Hermann Hesse, Arthur Schnitzler, and Karl Kraus.)

Not long after, Ungar—who was by then very old—sold his company to the Continuum Publishing Group in 1985, where I continued on for more than twenty years, rising to the position of vice president and senior editor. Concurrent with this, I joined the AMHF board of directors in 1996.

Why? The mind, the seat of the intellect and emotions, is likewise the center of human life. As a student of literature and art, as an observer (I fear too often an unexceptional one) of the world around me, which is reflected in all true poetry and literature, it became clear that, in a profound sense, the way we feel—happy, sad, confused, depressed—conditions the way we act toward others. We interact on this basis by and through our emotional lives. All the time.

My instinct, along these lines, was this: to help—people that suffer from the life-distorting effects of emotional problems. To find the best ways into the mind and into the heart of the emotions is the first way to make our world better.

When I became the father of a profoundly disabled child, my sensitivity to the isolation experienced by marginalized people increased. I also came to remember, years before, my cousin who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her condition took a considerable toll on our extended family. I had not thought about this a lot as I moved through the self-absorbed periods of adolescence and young adulthood. But coupled with my child’s developmenetal problems, as I reached the middle of my lifespan something inside “clicked.”

The power to heal is quite probably in all of us. It emerges naturally in some, those with greater sensitivity; or it manifests with (it is hoped—though this is not always the case, as our publication Crucial Choices—Crucial Changes shows) improved training and cultivated skill in others.

In blblical times, during his minstry, Jesus was known for casting out demons. For well over a century, in our own, more-secularized, modern, and postmodern society, by and large the religious leader, the shaman, the sorcerer, the miracle-worker, has been replaced by the analyst. In our world there must be a way, I felt, to alleviate emotional suffering, especially in situations wherein it is seemingly needless. This is the nature of my involvement in the continuing mission of the American Mental Health Foundation as we enter our eighty-fifth year.

The poet William Carlos Williams wrote, “A new world is only a new mind.” Here’s to a new world. We hope to hear your views.

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