Ritz, new board president of local NAMI chapter, continues quest to fight mental illness

Ritz, new board president of local NAMI chapter, continues quest to fight mental illness
Ellen Ritz received the Woman of Distinction award, presented by Ed Ra, earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Ritz)

Ellen Ritz, the new board president of the Lake Success-based National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Queens/Nassau chapter, said she hopes to expand programs and continue fighting the stigma that comes with mental health in an interview with Blank Slate Media and a letter sent out to NAMI supporters.

Ritz’ appointment comes at a time where, she said, reports of neurobiological disorders – or mental health disorders – have been increasing nationwide, likely from a combination of more proper identification, more people willing to come forward, and an increase in stimuli from social media.

“I think that it’s being identified more and I think there’s a tremendous amount more anxiety in the world,” Ritz, an East Williston resident and longtime nurse, said in an interview.

People “in the old days put people in boxes,” Ritz later added.

Ritz said she first became involved with NAMI in 2010, after a friend took her to one of their meetings.

Since then, she said she has been on the Queens/Nassau chapter’s board for at least three years, its vice president for the last two and co-facilitated a Whole Family Support Group with her daughter.

In that time, Ritz said she has been on a quest to challenge the stigma associated with mental illness and educate families.

Now, as president, she hopes to expand the family support groups NAMI has, since family members are a lens through which people see themselves, and add more training for programs.

“I think that people are struggling and are open to learn more,” Ritz, an East Williston resident said in an interview, “but it’s huge to change stigma, so this way people will get help faster.”

In addition to her involvement with NAMI, Ritz was a nurse for more than 30 years and involved in education for most of her life, whether it was as a substitute teacher in Manhasset and as a school board trustee in the East Williston School District.

She said this experience will help her as board president, because it has given her educational, leadership and management experience. It also allows her to see a bigger picture, she said, and work with other people.

“When you have a board at NAMI, it’s the same kind of principles: that people are people,” Ritz said.

Ritz has also been a treasurer with Roslyn Hadassah and a leader in Temple Beth Sholom’s Sisterhood, according to a state proclamation presented to her earlier this year by state Assemblyman Ed Ra.

Ritz said she and NAMI have recently created a Co-Occurring Disorders Support Group, reached out to spiritual leaders through FaithNet, and offered several presentations. They also noted extensive lobbying efforts with legislators and politicians.

NAMI has also become involved in “justice advocacy,” Ritz said, via beginning crisis intervention training for police to help them understand how to approach people with mental illness and spreading awareness about how the actions of people in jail could be linked to mental disorders.

“There’s so many arms,” Ritz said, referencing the group’s advocacy and outreach.

They have also partnered with organizations like the Association for Community Living and Northwell Health System, according to the letter.

“People need to understand what mental illness is and how to support people who are suffering, in a positive way,” Ritz said.

Angela Babaev and Maria Ceraulo are also now co-vice presidents of the board, while Linda Manzo is its secretary.

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