Local National Alliance on Mental Illness experiencing change, growth

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Shelly Birkelo
Tuesday, May 9, 2017

JANESVILLE—The National Alliance on Mental Illness Rock County has its first paid staff person—a part-time executive director—for the first time in 35 years.

Lindsay Stevens, past board president, started her 10-hour-a-week duties Monday, May 1.

It's one of many changes happening at the nonprofit organization, which provides support, education and advocacy throughout the county on behalf of those—individuals and families—affected by mental illness.

“Our three core goals are education, support and advocacy,” Stevens said.

“We are here for anyone touched by or dealing with a mental health challenge,” she said.

The local chapter also opened an office at 120 N. Crosby Ave., Suite 11, just over a year ago.

“Before, support groups were held at various locations throughout the county with no central office,” Stevens said.

The local NAMI has also increased its programming.

In addition to the Peer Support Group, Family Support Group and Family-to-Family educational program, NAMI started a Suicide Grief Support Group, in partnership with Survivors of Loved Ones to Suicide, in 2016. It meets from 6 to 7:30 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of each month at the NAMI office.

During 2017, local NAMI leaders established:

—Honest, Open, Proud, also known as the HOP program, for high school students countywide who are thinking about sharing the pain of their mental health challenge for the first time or becoming an advocate for mental health;

—In Our Own Voice, a free 90-minute presentation by those with mental health conditions who share their personal stories to change attitudes, assumptions and stereotypes by describing the reality of living with mental illness; and

—Compartiendo Esperanza, a bilingual 90-minute presentation that can help increase mental health awareness in Latino communities by addressing a number of important topics. These include signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression, how to discuss mental health and decrease its stigma, an overview of recovery and how it's possible, and the types of mental health services and supports available.

NAMI also offers Crisis Intervention Team training, a community initiative designed to improve the outcomes of police interactions with people living with mental illness, and Crisis Intervention Partners Training for those interested in having a better understanding of and improving their interactions with people who experience mental health crises. This could include correctional officers, 911 dispatchers, emergency personnel, hospital staff, teachers, social workers and others.

NAMI board members have also spent the past two years collaborating with various agencies from Rock County Human Services to local hospitals and law enforcement agencies throughout the county, said Patty Slatter, NAMI Rock County president.

“We're reaching out to see how we can work together to make a difference,” she said.

The goal is to let people know it's OK to talk about mental illness, ask for help and find a way with support to get through a mental crisis situation, Stevens said.

“The more we educate our communities, the more understanding there will be,” she said.

NAMI Rock County has increased its presence in the community and will continue to do so, Slatter said.

“We're hearing more people recognize our name. (We) still have a lot of work to do but are happy with how far we've come the last two years,” she said.

These efforts will continue by providing education, creating awareness and raising funds.

The local NAMI will present a community education discussion in conjunction with May—Mental Health Awareness Month—the evening of Tuesday, May 23, at the Beloit Public Library. 

The organization also has a May Mental Health Awareness Month display in Lower Courthouse Park, 51 S. Main St.

The second annual Paint the Town Yellow, a mental health and suicide awareness 5K Run/Walk, is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 30. Around 400 people participated in the 2016 inaugural event.

An Annual Comedy Night Fundraiser to benefit NAMI is planned for fall.

NAMI is growing so fast it needs volunteers to help in the office, become program facilitators and serve on committees, Stevens said.

“With our growth, where we're going and the amount of work that needs to be done, we're going to continue looking for funding options so we can bring on other paid staff,” she said.

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