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NAMI returns to the mental health awareness scene

by Erin Brindle (originally published in Powell Tribune)

I work as a mental health counselor. My first interaction with mental health was as a kid in my own family; at the time, I was unaware that the behavior patterns I was seeing were signs of mental illness.

In my training as a counselor, I realized more about the nature of mental illness and the support needed for both the person struggling and the loved ones of a person with a diagnosis. In 2021, at a Suicide Prevention Meeting in Cody, I was invited to join NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness). The importance of mental health support for my family, my clients, and me motivates me to write this article. NAMI Wyoming offers education, advocacy, and support groups for families and individuals in Wyoming.

NAMI is a mental health advocacy, education and support nonprofit for people with mental illness and their families. NAMI offers support programs such as Family to Family, Peer to Peer, and Homefront for Veterans. In My Own Voice is a testimonial program of people who live with mental illness. With 650 affiliates throughout the country, numerous legislative advocates speak with your elected officials about mental health-related bills and laws. Education task forces come to schools and places of worship. Podcasts, video library, and a justice resource for people with mental illness are available on the NAMI website. An exciting partnership with law enforcement for training called Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) exists to support officers interacting with people with a mental health diagnosis.

NAMI Wyoming currently has four affiliates, with one each in Park County, Sheridan, Casper, and Laramie, and is growing capacity to start new affiliates in Wyoming. 

History

“What started as a small group of families gathered around a kitchen table in 1979 has blossomed into the nation’s leading voice on mental health.” (NAMI website, 7.18.23)

National NAMI started as a grassroots organization to support people with mental illness. 

In 1987, NAMI Wyoming (dba Wyami) started with the efforts of Rita Overfield and Peggy Stroh of Cody. Also involved as early participants and organizers were Vernon and Sandy Ellis of Torrington.

The mission of the state organization was to support the affiliates (and still is) in providing opportunities for persons to participate in the several signature programs of NAMI. NAMI WY organized a state-wide convention for educational and promotional purposes as well as our formal annual business meeting (where board members were elected and by-laws changes were enacted). The conventions were held in Casper, usually for two days, and engaged 100 participants. (Ashear and Walworth, 2023).

Present Day

In 2023, NAMI Park County was led by Sara Murray, Connie Fisher, Shawn Kumm, Myoung Shin, Larry Munari and Wayne Hudson, with help from Thea Farrington, Carol Bell and Jane Bell. NAMI Park County provides relationships and safe space for speaking about mental health issues. If you are new to mental health or experienced in living with a person with mental illness, the group supports Park County residents with a weekly coffee on Fridays from 1-2 p.m. at The Beta Coffeehouse on Sheridan Avenue in Cody. Presently, we need leaders, members, volunteers and donors. 

The Future of NAMI WY

In 2024, NAMI WY will offer multiple support groups including Family-to-Family (F2F) led by facilitators affected by or with family members affected by mental illness. Groups will be available in Wyoming in person and virtually. In May 2024, NAMI WY will sponsor a fundraising NAMIWalk in three locations in the state. 

Wyoming has a need for mental health support. Factors that make Wyoming unique include geographic isolation, several consecutive years of highest number of suicides per capita among states in the US, and fourth highest population of veterans. Our state shares mental health struggles with other states such as opiate addiction.

Take away to-do’s: 

  • Check out the NAMI National website at nami.org for signature programs, testimonials, and events. 
  • Check out your NAMI Wyoming website at namiwyoming.com and Facebook, for upcoming events.
  • Check in on a friend, who might be struggling with mental health issues.
  • Be willing to talk with a counselor yourself. 
  • Become a member of NAMI to support programming or a friend who uses our support.  
  • Spread the word about NAMI programs and support or contribute to this column.

(Erin Brindle is a local counselor and the current board chair of NAMI, National Alliance of Mental Illness.)

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