We were very saddened to hear of the recent passing of Dr. Lew Opler. Listed below is a wonderfully written piece in the NAMI Newsletter about Dr. Opler.
Over twenty years ago when I was director of NAMI, we were still in the comparable dark ages about the healing role of families. Many people blamed the so called ‘schizophrenic genic parent’ for their loved one’s illness. Instead of recognizing how valuable family members were to recovery, we were often blamed and shamed for our loved one’s illness. Believe it or not, there were some so called ‘experts’ who were still espousing those ludicrous theories at that time.
Then there were people like Dr. Lew Opler who shined a light on the role of families in recovery and support. Every year he spoke at the NAMI Conference about the partnership between peers, families and clinicians. He also spoke openly and with great passion about how it was time to stop blaming families for their loved one’s illness. Through his words and deeds, Dr. Opler was a real leader of the family movement. Though he has passed away, his legacy of great work and support for families and peers will endure for many years to come.
Your NAMI-NYS & Mental Health News
Remembering Lew Opler, MD, PhD
April 16, 1948 ~ April 12, 2018
It is with heavy hearts that we share the news with you that NAMI-NYS has lost one of our greatest friends with the passing of Dr. Lew Opler. Anyone who has been to a NAMI-NYS Education Conference will remember Dr. Opler for the insights and kindness he brought to his “Ask the Doctor” session, which he led for 34 years. Dr. Opler deeply enjoyed his interactions with NAMI-NYS members and we loved him and came to view him as our trusted adviser. Dr. Opler’s collaboration with NAMI-NYS also produced the “Ask the Doctor” column, which ran in our newsletter for many years and was the first type of question and answer column in a NAMI publication. For many NAMI-NYS members, Doctor Opler’s column was their source for answering their psychiatric questions, especially in the days before the internet.
Dr. Opler and his wife Annette were always a warm presence at the conference and for many the highlight of the weekend was getting to talk and catch-up with him. Our conference will never be the same without his presence. While NAMI-NYS lost a dear friend, the psychiatric community lost one of its brightest minds. Along with being a renowned researcher, among Dr. Opler’s many accomplishments was serving as the Medical Director for the New York State Office of Mental Health.
NAMI-NYS Board Member Robert Laitman, MD collaborated with Dr. Opler on the book Meaningful Recovery From Schizophrenia and Serious Mental Illness with Clozapine. Dr. Laitman writes of Dr. Opler: “His loss to his family, friends and the entire psychiatric community is devastating. He was such a warm, giving quirky guy that just brought so much joy and hope to so many. You cannot replace such a man. Though I feel so cheated by his untimely death and personally feel enervated, he really had so much more to do, I know that the best way to honor him is to continue his mission.” Dr. Laitman adds,” As Lew would put it, he was one of the few people that could out hyperbolize me. We shall all rise from the ashes and continue our quest to make the world not only a better place for our NAMI community, but the world in general. This is what Lew really wanted. So, one last hyperbole, join me as we continue to march into hell for a heavenly cause. Lew Opler, NAMI-NYS’s Ask the Doctor, would then be made complete and honored as he should. We will miss him, but even thinking about him still brings a smile to my face. The world is a better place that Lew Opler sallied forth.”