There are many wonderful mental health organizations doing great work all around the world. So, when you single one out for praise, you run the risk of ticking off all the others.
I’ll take that risk, because I want to recognize the many fine efforts of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org). NAMI is near and dear to my heart as I’ve had the privilege to work with my local and state chapters very closely for many years.
NAMI’s roots began with Harriet Shetler of Madison, Wisconsin, and her son Charles, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. One of Harriet’s friends introduced her to Beverly Young, whose son carried the same diagnosis.
The story goes (according to Harriet’s family) that the two women met for lunch in 1977 and they hit it off immediately. They decided to convene a meeting for parents with similar concerns, which 13 people attended.
Harriet suggested the group be called the Alliance for the Mentally Ill, or AMI, which means “friend” in French. They soon enrolled 75 members. Not long after, they became aware of a similar group in California. Harriet then decided to organize a national conference, and 284 people representing 29 states attended in the fall of 1979. By the end of the conference, a national group had been formed, named and financed.
Things to Know
In the more than 35 years since its founding, NAMI has grown and flourished. Over 200,000 current members include people with mental illness, their friends and family, and professionals. Dr. Steven Hyman, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, called the alliance “the greatest single advocacy force in mental health.”
As I’ve worked with NAMI over the years, I’ve really come to appreciate how worthwhile their initiatives are. Let’s take a moment to review some of the many services and programs that make NAMI such a terrific organization.
With their national headquarters in Arlington, VA, NAMI now has over 1000 state and local affiliate chapters. While the larger chapters are in urban centers, many active groups are also found in rural areas. Many colleges and universities now offer NAMI campus groups for students. This widespread network makes it easy for someone to find a nearby chapter. The accessibility of NAMI’s programs and services is a real strength and its wide reach is unmatched among mental health organizations.
NAMI has a well-developed public policy and advocacy program at both state and Federal levels. Recent legislative priorities have centered around military and veterans’ mental health, child and youth programs, increased funding, research and services for mental illness, and decriminalization of mental illness, just to name a few.
NAMI’s website offers extensive educational resources about mental health conditions, warning signs for mental illness, statistics on the prevalence and impact of mental illness, treatment options, coping strategies, fact sheets, and much more. The organization’s Information Helpline fields over 70,000 calls per year.
NAMI’s “Find Support” page provides a wealth of useful tips and resources. Information is offered on how to find a mental health professional, living with a mental health condition, plus support strategies for family members and caregivers. Helpful materials are provided for numerous groups including teens and young adults, ethnic minorities, veterans and active duty military, and LGBTQ individuals.
5) Classes, Presentations and Groups
NAMI really shines with their educational programs, presentations and support groups. I have heard several people say the programs were “life-changing” and that they literally saved their relationship or their family. There are numerous options, including:
- Family to Family – education about mental illness for families & caregivers
- Basics – education about mental illness for parents of children & adolescents
- Peer to Peer – recovery education for anyone with a mental health condition
- Homefront – family education for military service members & veterans
- Provider Education – education for mental health care providers
- Smarts for Advocacy – training to help people become effective mental health advocates
- Ending the Silence – in-school presentation for middle and high school students
- In Our Own Voice – for the general public on mental illness & recovery
- Parents & Teachers as Allies – for school personnel about early warning signs & intervention
- Connection – support group for people living with a mental health condition
- Family Support Group – support for families & caregivers of people with mental illness
NAMI raises money through community “NAMIWalks” throughout the country. These annual events take on the air of a festival as consumers, families, and providers join together to walk, have fun, raise awareness about mental health and improve services for those whose lives are impacted by mental illness.
7) Get Involved
At its heart, NAMI has always been a grassroots organization led by people with the lived experience of mental illness and their friends and families. NAMI offers many ways to get involved, as a group facilitator, class leader, walk team organizer, or just by sharing your personal recovery story with others. Consider taking this next step to sign up as a NAMI volunteer. Both you and the people you help will benefit from the experience.
Ask This Question
If you know anyone who has a mental illness (and you do, trust me), ask them, “What do you know about NAMI?” If you know a friend or family member of a person with mental illness, ask them the same question. Many people may have heard of NAMI, but don’t know much about it and have never made contact. Others (and far too many) have never heard of NAMI at all. Some of the lucky few you will ask not only know about NAMI, but are already loyal fans.
Whatever the response, take a minute to tell them about how helpful NAMI’s services and supports are, and encourage them to check out nami.org or call their local chapter to find out more. Let them know NAMI’s services and programs are all free of charge. Afterwards, pat yourself on the back for doing something really helpful and caring for someone else.
Here’s a question: Do you know someone who could benefit from NAMI’s programs and services? Please leave a comment. Also please consider subscribing to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!