Bill Compton

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Bill Compton in Vejle, Denmark, July 2004
(Photo by Peter Lehmann)

William H. "Bill" Compton, Jr. (October 6, 1945, Rockford, Illinois – August 27, 2007) was a mental health advocate in California who attained national stature. After suffering a mental health crisis in 1989, he became heavily involved in self-help and patients' rights advocacy issues. Between 1994 and 2007 he was the head of a large network of peer support groups.

Work in the mental health field[edit]

Beginning in 1994,[1] Compton headed Project Return: The Next Step (PR:TNS), a consumer-run self-help network supported by the National Mental Health Association of Greater Los Angeles. In May 2007, the organization was renamed Project Return Peer Support Network.[2] He became director of the network when the sponsoring organization decided to turn the network's administration over to those who used its services.[3]

Compton built the network from about thirty peer-support groups to more than one hundred,[4] which employed about one hundred individuals in positions ranging from stipend to full-time, serving several thousand individuals with serious mental disorders.[5] The network included projects that Compton developed, such as PR:TNS Discovery Centers, which provided personal and professional growth opportunities, and the Friendship Line, an after-hours phone service that provided peer-to-peer support for people with mental illness.[6]

Compton was on the Board of Directors of Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association) from 2002 to 2007.[7] He was also president of the board of Protection & Advocacy, Inc. of California,[8] which focused on protecting the rights of mental health and other disabled consumers throughout California.[6] Beginning in November, 2003, Compton was the chairman of the board of directors for the Pacific Clinic, the largest nonprofit mental health organization in California, based in Pasadena, California; he left that position in 2005.[8][9]

In 2005, Compton wrote a one-man play, "Swept Away or The Week That I Went Crazy." He performed it at a number of conferences and schools.[4]

Personal history[edit]

Compton was born in 1945 in Rockford, Illinois. He spent his teenage years at a military boarding school in West Virginia; during the 1960s, he was a vocal anti-war activist.[4] Compton earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1969 in Theater Arts from the University of Akron, and returned to earn a Master of Arts degree in 1986. During this time he worked as an actor, producer and director in New York City, Boston, and eventually Los Angeles.[9] In Boston, in the 1970s, he ran a then-innovative business for theater-goers to purchase tickets by phone, using a credit card.[4] He sold the business, Quickcharge, to a predecessor of Ticketmaster.[10]

In 1989, in his mid-40s and an event salesperson for a large Los Angeles theater, Compton suffered a complete mental breakdown;[11] his family believes it may have been caused by his use of crystal methamphetamine.[10] When he was diagnosed as having late-onset schizophrenia, he had already left his job and had no health insurance. After three admissions to a private hospital over a nine-month period, paid for by his family, he was transferred to a public hospital. Upon his discharge from there, Compton went to live in a community board and care home. He began hearing voices again, ending up living on the streets for nine months,[12] panhandling for money to buy food.[13] In the early 1990s, he made his way to a hospital waiting room, his first step on the road to recovery.[4]

Presentations and testimony[edit]

In 2001, while president of the California Network of Mental Health Clients, a statewide alliance of consumers, Compton testified before the state legislature’s Joint Commission on Mental Health Reform.[6]

Compton made presentations at state and national conferences on topics such as establishing and enhancing a network of self-help clubs, running a peer support telephone help line and incorporating the role of consumer-run services into a mental health system.[1][8][14]

He regularly made presentations to graduate students at the University of Southern California School of Social Work and Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, as well as psychology students at the University of California Los Angeles.[9]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • In June 2001, the National Mental Health Association (NMHA) presented the Clifford W. Beers Award to Compton at its annual conference in Washington, D.C.[5]
  • In June 2002, Compton received the Consumer Advocacy Award from the International Association of Psychosocial Rehabilitative Agencies.[6]
  • In November 2003, Eli Lilly and Company gave Compton its "Helping Move Lives Forward Reintegration Award" for his mentorship of people with mental illness.[9]
  • In 2004, Compton was included in Who's Who in America.[15]
  • In 2007, Compton received a proclamation from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for bringing Project Return Peer Support Network members "into a full participation in community life."[2]


  1. ^ a b Biography at National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA), accessed December 26, 2006
  2. ^ a b "What's in a Name" Archived September 1, 2007, at the Wayback Machine., National Mental Health Association of Greater Los Angeles, "News", accessed August 27, 2007
  3. ^ Steve Lopez, "Lives may founder, but yacht sales will flourish", Los Angeles Times, August 29, 2007
  4. ^ a b c d e Joceyln Y. Stewart, "William H. Compton Jr., 71; Theater lover was advocate for the mentally ill"Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2007. (Note: Compton was 61 years old, not 71, when he died.)
  5. ^ a b "NMHA Presents Highest Honor to Consumer Advocate" Archived November 15, 2006, at the Wayback Machine., National Mental Health Association press release, May 31, 2001
  6. ^ a b c d Biography of Bill Compton Archived November 30, 2006, at the Wayback Machine., Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association), accessed December 26, 2006
  7. ^ Resolution of the Board of Directors of Mental Health America (pdf) Archived October 23, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. accessed September 8, 2007
  8. ^ a b c "Bill Compton's presentation to NAPAS". Archived from the original on 2006-06-19. Retrieved 2006-12-02. , San Diego, January 2006
  9. ^ a b c d ""Mental Health Advocate Bill Compton named to Chair Pacific Clinics Board of Directors"". Archived from the original on 2007-02-22. Retrieved 2006-12-02. , press release, Pacific Clinics, November 14, 2003
  10. ^ a b J.M. Lawrence, "William Compton Jr.; used his own struggle to help others", Boston Globe, September 7, 2007
  11. ^ Shawn Hubler, "Amid Debate Over Ethics and Drugs, People Can Get Lost", Los Angeles Times, December 2, 1999
  12. ^ Bill Compton, "Stuck Out There" Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine., The Bell (National Mental Health Association), June 2001
  13. ^ Ian McMillan, "For a Few Dollars More" Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine., Mental Health Practice (UK), July 2003
  14. ^ 2005 National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy conference - list of speakers and topics
  15. ^ Project Return: The Next Step (PR:TNS) Archived December 29, 2006, at the Wayback Machine., welcome page

External links[edit]

  • - Project Return: The Next Step (PR:TNS)