By Kristen Duda, Program Director, NAMI Northern Virginia
More and more young people are speaking out about their experiences with mental illness and recovery and it’s helping to beat the stigma.
We’re seeing more posts on Facebook and Twitter and more student advocacy clubs in high schools and universities.
We’re hearing stories of success and hope from young people who are in recovery and eager to talk about it.
Young adult leaders from the NAMI Northern Virginia affiliate are a great example of how peers are helping to create communities and schools where mental illness is recognized and recovery is supported.
By involving youth leaders in outreach and awareness in schools, and by participating in community events and social media, NAMI Northern Virginia has been able to build a network of young adults who are passionate about telling their stories and helping others to get involved.
This fall, NAMI Northern Virginia implemented its first NAMI Peer-to-Peer recovery education class just for young adults aged 18-28. The 10-week program is for individuals living with a mental illness who want to achieve recovery and maintain wellness through peer support.
“Recovery is a process,” explained Lisa, a peer mentor for the local program. “Part of that process, I think, is getting outside of yourself to experience others and to share your experience so you can grow and continue on a positive path.”
“It’s especially beneficial to be able to connect with those of your own age. The young adult age group has specific needs, and NAMI’s programs provide a space to talk through those issues with peers,” she added.
Peter Davey, another peer mentor for the young adult class, believes that learning about mental illness early is important. “I think young adults are courageous in learning about mental wellness,” he said. “I suggest anyone take this important class to strengthen their well-being, rather than waiting until they are older to learn the material.”
“Peer-to-Peer has helped me so much in life, and I always feel home during class learning with my fellow peers.”
Others in the class shared what they have learned or had taken away from the young adult Peer-to-Peer class:
- “The potential to meet friends who can relate.”
- “We now have a place we can go to learn how to cope with our illness.”
- “It was reassuring to know that I’m not alone.”
- “The exchange of stories and experiences.”
- “The opportunity to learn more about ourselves through others.”
- “Now I understand and have hope.”
Hope for recovery may be the most important take-away from NAMI Peer-to-Peer.
Hope comes from opportunities to share stories, to make friends, and to make a difference in our communities. We have found that the determination, hope, and enthusiasm of young people are contagious. When other youth and families see that recovery is possible and that we can have fun while working together, it encourages everyone to get involved in some way.
Another young adult said, “I am encouraged by the existence of this group to volunteer my time to help people with mental illness who are my age.”
There may be nothing more powerful than peer-inspired hope and action from the grassroots of NAMI, and local programs made possible by the support of our community.
NAMI Northern Virginia is just one of the many NAMI affiliates across the country that are making strides in our efforts to reach more young people and families affected by mental illness.
Anyone can get involved with NAMI by contacting their affiliate to learn more about the programs and volunteer opportunities for individuals with mental illness, and for families and friends.
There is still a lot of work to be done and stigma to defeat, but together we are making a difference in our communities as we celebrate hope for recovery!