Sharon S. Dunas, MA, LMFT Biography

Published on March 1, 2023

A Pioneer in Fighting the Stigma of Mental Illness

Sharon Dunas, LMFT is the former President of the renowned National Alliance on Mental Illness – Westside LA (

She is known for her public service as one of the creators and leaders of NAMI Los Angeles County and Westside. Her tireless advocacy is the direct result of a life filled with challenges, as a child and an adult. Both her parents and her daughter suffered from serious mental illnesses whose challenges were so intense that she decided to dedicate her life to helping eradicate the stigma of mental illness so that people who need the medical and emotional support get it and that neither they, nor their families, will have to suffer needlessly.

When Mrs. Dunas became a psychotherapist, she applied the tools she used to turn her tragic personal story into a template for creating a happy, successful life. She awakens every day with a sense of vitality fueled by purpose, commitment and hope. And she has learned, through trial and error, to “be in the moment”. She is living proof that the past does not have to dictate the present and that the choices we make create and enhance the life we live.

Published on March 1, 2023

The grief, confusion and emotional pain she experienced, after the suicide of her mother, were so severe that they paralyzed her thoughts and actions. For a while, this tragedy kept her from living a life other than caretaking and getting an education, but she persevered.

Sharon graduated from UCLA with a degree in psychology.  She then achieved the first of many honors – she became the youngest principal of Los Angeles University High. As principal, she was successful in troubleshooting and negotiating numerous complex situations, with both the student body and the school’s staff.  Her leadership skills emerged as did her talent for motivating people to be the best they were capable of.

Having spent her childhood with parents who both lived with undiagnosed mental illness motivated Sharon to want to help other people with mental health struggles in some way. She combined her leadership and management skills, charismatic personality and gift for motivating people and began to explore how she could assist people and their families impacted by mental illness.

Sharon also addressed the stigma of mental illness. Sharon discovered NAMI on the Internet. It was a relatively small organization then, but she felt that it had a lot to offer. In her own words, “I contacted NAMI when I heard about the Family-to-Family class. Even though I had never been at a NAMI meeting, I took the training to become a NAMI Family-to-Family teacher.  It saved my life when I could advocate for other family members by teaching this course. The first course I taught, which was the first one in L.A., was held in the Nordstrom Westside Pavilion – corner of Pico & Westwood Boulevards. It was very rewarding to help families by teaching this course for NAMI.”

Sharon became President of NAMI Westside in 2005. When she took over the NAMI Affiliate, the organization had about $2,000. When she left in 2013, NAMI Westside had over $200,000 in its bank account.

Sharon, inspired by the work NAMI was doing, became an instructor, an organizer, a Board Member and ultimately President (2004-2013) and (2016-2022). Throughout this period she has been the recipient of numerous awards and honor – both national and state-wide. The most recent (2013) was one of the most prestigious in the mental field: the Peggy & Don Richardson Mental Health Distinguished Service Award from NAMI California. She has been quoted in the media, appeared on television and heard on radio and written numerous printed articles. Her voice is warm and strong, but it’s inspiring and motivating because it comes from deep pain. But she knows better than most that people who suffer from mental illness can be helped and can return to normal. So she works every day as a psychological professional, a leader, a mother and a crusader for those affected by the tragedy of mental illness in their midst.

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