Wednesday, June 9, 2010

People Helping People: the NAMI HelpLine

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.


Anonymous said...

As a support person (female) of someone with bipolar (Male), I struggle occasionally with some behavior issues, lack of intimacy and problems with the side effects of medications. It is not only frustrating for him, it is also frustrating for me. What can we do? I have tried all I can think of to be calm, assuring and loving, but I don't always feel the return of those feelings from him. He says its a "guy thing" but I don't know if that's an honest response. Is this bipolar or something else? Anyone have any suggestions? I am not about to give up on this man!!

matador5150 said...

I need support for my website ( I sent an email to NAMI, but I have not heard back from any one. Also, I am attempting to create a local support group in my area and need some help dealing with the local hospital. Please contact me. I could use the help.

matador5150 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
brian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
brian said...

I am concerned that NAMI is getting away from its focus on mental illness instead it is focusing on mental health issues.I think it should refocus on biological based brain disease
brian marcum

Anonymous said...

when i recieved my copy of the advocate with Glen Close and her sister ,something didnt set right, im a person with deprssion ,i am not my illness , those of us who have a mental illness dont choose to have it , and we are not are illness , i was offended by this picture it says the normal one & the sick one AND THATS STIGMA. I AM involved in my small town nami. and we stay small because of stigma . nami is working on consumer focused programs, but to much is still focused on the family ,some have wonderfull families who choose to keep there consumer in there lives but most of us dont have support, we are on our own and services for the poor SUCK ,thats why support and education is SO important FOR CONSUMERS.i recently learned the family to family class hasnt really changed since 1980 30yrs ago there are several words and phrases that are stigma based HOW CAN NAMI FIGHT IT WHEN THERE OWN PROGRAMS REINFORCE IT !!!!! lots of things have changed since 1980 now yes there are update pages but base of the coarse hasnt been redone AND NEEDS TO DESPERATLY NOW !!! Mike Fitzpatrick I HOPE YOU CAN DO SOMTHING ABOUT THIS SOON

Anonymous said...

Hello Dr. Fitzpatric, I am a bipolar student being denied admission into LSU Graduate School of Social Work's MSW Program on the basis of the way coping with my handicap affects the impression formed by the evaluating comitte which has led them to the determination that it will pose a problem in the professional demeanor required by a certified social worker when dealing with at-risk populations therefore it is in my best interest to seek resources to remedy this Ethical infraction on the part of individuals rating me with a LESS FAVORABLE status despite my graduating undergraduate GPA of a 3.34 from Louisiana State University itself. Can you help me fing help in this discriminatory crisis?

Elisa said...

The Helpline is a valuable resource for the Spanish-speaking community. Being able to receive support from someone who understands and who speaks our preferred language helps us feel less alone.

Contributors: said...

Anon#1, Kudos to you for trying to separate the illness from the person. Sometimes loved ones have a hard time distinguishing between someone's condition and their personality and coping mechanisms. While there's no one size fits all answer, you should check out the NAMI online community devoted to people living with bipolar disorder and their loved ones. These are very active groups where you can pose a question and get a variety of answers that might give you clues for your own situation.
Go here for the discussion boards (you'll need to sign in with NAMI first).

Best of luck to you.

Contributors: said...

Hi matador5150,
Thanks for your comment. Anyone that seeks to create support for others is providing a commendable service. Please keep in mind that NAMI is a national organization whose partners are chosen carefully after being evaluated for congruence with our stand on a number of issues. We do wish you the best of luck with the areas you are working on, but unless you'd like to contact the NAMI legal team for a referral we don't have any programs that match your scope at this time. Maybe your local NAMI would be better able to work with you on issues in your community.

Best of luck with your efforts.

Contributors: said...

Hi, Brian,

Sorry that you feel that way. Please do know that NAMI is committed to serious mental illness and supports the biological model of mental illness. Our focus has been and always will be serious mental illness.

Contributors: said...

Hi Anon#2,

The purpose of Glenn Close's BringChange2Mind campaign is actually to fight stigma. Her organization believes that by getting mental illness out there in the public eye and by talking openly about one's diagnosis our society will become more tolerant. Not everyone agrees with this method, but I hope we can all agree that the purpose--fighting stigma and thereby improving the lives of people living with mental illness--is the same for both Ms. Close's organization and NAMI. As a big supporter of NAMIWalks Ms. Close has demonstrated a deep and lasting commitment to our community, so maybe a difference of opinion in one area won't obscure the reason for the partnership.

As far as the Family to Family program is concerned, we are always trying to update the materials for all of our educational programs. If you have specific concerns in mind, please send them to to help inform our revision efforts.

Thank you for your passionate devotion to our cause.

Contributors: said...

Hi Anon#3,

While NAMI does not provide direct legal help, we do have a legal referral service. You can also call our HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI to get some peer support on what is no doubt a stressful situation.

Best of luck to you.

Dianne said...

I have a daughter diagnosed with bipolar a couple of years ago. She was on our state mental health disability but now she has no health insurance and a 10 month old baby. She calls me screaming that she can't cope but once she calms down she is pretty rational. That seems to be the problem because she has sought help but was turned away yesterday because they didn't see her as being in crisis. I received another call at 5 am today. I don't know where to turn to get help for her. She was in the ER on Friday and I was with her when she spoke to the psychiatrist and at that time she was again very rational. He discharged her but still we don't know where to turn for long term care since she is uninsured. Any suggestions.


Contributors: said...

Hi Dianne,
It sounds like you could use some one-on-one support. Please call our HelpLine at 1 (800) 950-NAMI Monday through Friday, 10 am- 6 pm, Eastern time to discuss your issues in-depth with a HelpLine worker.

Kathleen said...

I would like to introduce you to a new website for caregivers of our veterans. It is national, interactive and very informative!
I am a recent past president of a NAMI affilate and a member of our county's Advisory Board of Mental Health. Our board geared it's May event this year towards the plight of veterans and those that love and care for them. We realized during the panel discussion and question and answer period which followed the panel discussion that one of the main problems was reaching the care givers themselves who are the first to reach out for information to obtain help for the veteran with a mental illness. I hope you will share this website with all the families and provider agencies that can help our veterans and those who care for them. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank-you, Dr. Fitzpatrick, for writing about the Helpline. The Helpline is a valuable service to both consumers and families. I am grateful to NAMI for all the work that happens to help and advocate for the mentally ill.

Anonymous said...

I attend the conference this past week, it was my first. I have to say that it was a great conference powerful speakers excellent topics but the one that hit hard was UNLISTED it brought back all the feelings I had hiden inside me about my ex-husband who was diagnosed with mental illness in 1968. The trials and tribulations that my daughters and I faced during this time was exposed in this movie. I want to thank the good Doctor for sharing this with us and for making a difference. I cried but my tears where of joy that finally the stigma on this illness will be address. Thank you to all the speakers and volunteers that worked on this great convention the movement must continue to be bigger and culturaly diverse. I want to see more empowerment in the Latino/Hispano community This should be considered for the Windy City is just around the corner.

Anonymous said...

I would like the term mental illness(connotated with stigma) to be eradicated and replaced with the more scientific definition neurological disorder.
It bothers me that the best and more active association calls itself Alliance on Mental Illness. Now that we know about neurotransmitters and dopamine receptors, the term "mental illness" is inadequate and not appropriate anymore.

Mother of a child suffering from Bipolar Disorder

Norine Walsh, RN said...

I am trying to locate an email address for Debera Ashline Faust to thank her for her assistance with my daughter who is bipolar. In 2007, She assisted us with getting my daughter's probation in NY moved to Washington State so she could be home and care for her two year old child. The breakup with the family would have been devastating to all concerned, without Ms. Ashline/Faust's help this would not have been possible. She told me that she used my daughter's situation in a presentation and I would like to tell her that my daughter just finished her probation of 2.5 years as directed. she is a wonderful caring individual.

Norine Walsh, RN
Middletown, NY

Anonymous said...

dear anonymous, the term mental illness can still apply since they are aiming not just to help fix the biological engine (read: Brain as you mentioned) but also fighting to help the spirits or cognitive source of human thought each person at some point or another taps into for everything from breathing or eating to getting dressed, driving, and etc... the dopimaine you mention is a biological repair for a biological problem but, you also have to concider how to fix a human mind, no small feat by any means, and no easy task either due to how delicate the human mind can be at times let alone how much each differs so signifigantly. I am not trying to attack you only to defend what i see as being unfairly targeted.