Remembering Max Schneier, Mental Health Advocate
Max Schneier, J.D., one of SAMHSA's first National Advisory
Council members and an internationally recognized advocate for people
with mental illnesses, died in June after a brief illness. He was
85 years old. Friends, colleagues, and mental health professionals
alike took time to remember Mr. Schneier.
SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W., said, "Max
Schneier put the issue of co-occurring mental and addictive disorders
on the map—arguing that its time had come, long before many
in our fields had the same realization."
Obituaries in the New York Times and the Los Angeles
Times among others told the story of a man with a personal
cause who gained the ear and the respect of mental health professionals
and policymakers across the Nation.
"Max Schneier was the consummate advocate—totally
committed, tenacious, and effective," said Herbert Pardes,
M.D., president and chief executive officer of the New York Presbyterian
Hospital, and a former director of the National Institute of Mental
Health. "His persistent efforts helped shape how mental illness
is defined today. He opened up the way for the mentally ill to get
help, and he encouraged advocacy in this country."
Mr. Schneier was galvanized to action in 1969 by the serious mental
illness of his daughter. Outraged by the obstacles his family encountered
as they sought help, Mr. Schneier left his successful business and
dedicated the rest of his life—more than 30 years—to
his prodigious work as an unpaid activist.
His efforts brought impressive results. Motivated by his belief
in psychosocial rehabilitation leading to recovery, he established
three innovative community residence programs in New York and California.
"Max was a founding father of SAMHSA's Community Support
Program," said Community Support Program Branch Chief Neal
Brown, M.P.A. "And, for over 30 years he was a primary supporter
of community mental health treatment and rehabilitation across the
"Max Schneier never backed down when he thought the cause
was just," said Ruth Hughes, Ph.D., C.P.R.P., of the International
Association of Psychosocial Rehabilitative Services (IAPSRS). "Over
the years he continually fought for rehabilitation and recovery
services for all people with mental illness."
From the point of view of consumers of mental health services,
Mr. Schneier was a champion for the cause. "He was relentless,"
said J. Rock Johnson, J.D. "That is the best single word to
describe him. He knew what was right, and he fought for us—rights
protection and enforcement, services and support, accreditation
standards—all focused on improving our quality of life."
He helped found the Federation of Parent's Organizations
for New York State mental institutions, the first statewide advocacy
group for families of people with mental illness. He was also instrumental
in helping to create the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
(NAMI) in 1979, a national mental health advocacy organization for
people with serious mental illnesses and their families.
Soon after Mr. Schneier's death, the NAMI Web site posted
anecdotes and recollections from staff members. Ron Honberg, NAMI's
legal director, remembered Mr. Schneier's contribution in
connection with a friend-of-the-court brief in a Florida case. "Max
appointed himself as my personal law clerk and spent several days
in a law library reading cases and finding obscure citations and
precedents. He would call me at home at midnight, reading me quotes
from cases and insisting I insert them into the brief. And of course,
he was right on point!" Deciding that he needed to enhance
his advocacy skills, Mr. Schneier earned a law degree in 1986 at
the age of 69.
Mr. Schneier helped change the standards used by the Joint Commission
on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) to evaluate
hospitals providing psychiatric services, and worked to limit the
use of seclusion and restraint in mental health facilities. "His
powerful voice influenced the improvement of Joint Commission standards
respecting psychiatric rehabilitation, discharge planning, and the
treatment of co-occurring disorders, as well as many other important
issues," said Paul M. Schyve, M.D., senior vice president
at the JCAHO.
Irene Levine, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at New York University
School of Medicine and a former deputy director of SAMHSA's
Center for Mental Health Services, said, "With his words, his pen,
and his telephone, Max Schneier moved mountains and changed the
landscape of mental health. In doing so, he reminded each of us
of the power of one committed individual."
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