by Michael J. Fitzpatrick, Executive Director
Here at NAMI, we strive to offer hope and help to individuals and families affected by mental illness each day.
A large variety of activities engage our efforts, from numerous advocacy initiatives, management of our many education programs, providing response to and shaping media stories, supporting our grassroots leaders and more. Now and for the next few weeks, we are especially busy preparing for our annual convention when we play host to thousands of grassroots NAMI members and others. They will join us in Washington, D.C., to learn, network and both give and receive inspiration for the important work they do as NAMI advocates, educators and citizens.
In partnership with the thousands of volunteers across the country, these and all of our activities are important as we strive to meet the NAMI mission. Among the many things we do here at NAMI, however, perhaps no single effort directly improves lives more than our NAMI HelpLine. The only national phone line of its kind, our HelpLine fields 80,000 requests each year. The need has grown along with our visibility, and we work every day to lend a hand those seeking help.
The phone calls, e-mails and letters come from all parts of the country, and the requests are varied. Last week, a young woman early in her recovery called discouraged because she was struggling to manage her illness. A father called looking for a support group for he and his wife; they were seeking answers from others who had a similar experience with their child who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A Latina phoned, grateful to have a Spanish-speaking HelpLine associate to respond to her unique challenge as a caregiver. Thousands of people contact us each month in search of an understanding listener, information to assist their situation, or a lifesaving referral.
Who is answering these calls? Several staff and dozen of volunteers who are themselves in recovery or who are family members, people who know what the callers are experiencing and who want to give back to others. College students who want to learn first-hand about helping people with mental illness while preparing for future careers also volunteer, especially in the summer.
Our callers feel hope and gratitude for the responses they receive from the HelpLine, and we are proud to serve. This and everything we do at NAMI is motivated by our commitment to our grassroots leaders and our combined efforts at improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. It is this commitment and the stories we share, as well as those we receive, that make us unique.
Our stories bind us together. This blog post is the start of a new weekly series designed to provide insight and offer personal reflections about the concerns that affect people with mental illness. Please join me each week as together we explore a variety of issues through our shared human experience.