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Jim McIngvale
jim Hackett
Business owner says Texas should lead nation in mental-health funding

Jim McIngvale, known throughout Houston as "Mattress Mack," owns Gallery Furniture, one of the largest single-store furniture companies in the United States, with annual sales of $150 million to $200 million and about 300 employees. Mack, as he calls himself, is also known for his civic work and currently serves as the Houston chair of the Bush-Clinton Tsunami Relief Fund.

Mack's advocacy for those with mental illness began four years ago, when his wife came to him and said they needed to talk. "She said there was something terribly wrong with our daughter," Mack recalls. "She was washing her hands 600 times
a day."

Mack and his wife took their daughter, Liz, to a therapist who said that Liz had one of the most severe cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder he had ever seen. "We researched our options and took her by force to the Menninger Clinic," says Mack. "I'll never forget seeing Liz with her face pressed against the door, crying, 'Mom, please don't leave me.' She was just 14."

Six or eight weeks later, Liz came home, ready to work on the long, slow process of recovery. "She never went back to school," says Mack. "She graduated by home schooling. She's made a lot of progress. We're proud of her."

“Mental illness needs a face to help people understand it's real. It isn't a disease that affects strangers; it affects families like yours and mine”

Mack admits that his background as a college football player and as an entrepreneur made it hard for him to understand other people's mental-health challenges. "I'd see people with mental illness and wonder why they couldn't just tough it out," he says. "Then I saw with my own eyes. I understand that obsessive-compulsive disorder affects more than one out of 50."

Wasting no time, Mack took the lesson he learned at home and applied it to Gallery Furniture. "We changed our insurance policy to provide mental-health parity," he says. "I'm a lot more sympathetic toward my employees' challenges than I used to be. Now, I'm an advocate, trying to help them get better."

In Mack's view, things are changing for the better, although perhaps a bit more slowly than he would like. "Folks are becoming more aware of mental illness. It's starting to come out of the closet, like cancer 30 years ago," he says. "Educated people are beginning to understand that it's biological."

A born marketer, Mack views the challenge of overcoming the stigma that still surrounds mental illness as a matter of changing public perception. "Mental illness needs a face to help people understand it's real. It isn't a disease that affects strangers; it affects families like yours and mine," he says. "When people understand that, they understand that nothing should differentiate a person with mental illness from someone with a broken arm."

For Mack, it's not a cost issue. "People are concerned about exploding health-care costs, but we tend to focus too much on treatment and less on prevention," he says. "For good companies, it's a matter of doing the right thing. At the end of the day, the litmus test is what did we do to help people. Providing mental health benefits is going to increase productivity, and do good for people."