Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Young Adults Find Friendships and Hope through NAMI Peer-to-Peer

NAMI Northern Virginia Program Director, Kristen Duda, and Walk Manager, Laura Marcucci.

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.”

Young adult peer mentor, Peter Davey, at NAMIWalks Northern Virginia 2012.

“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.”
  • “Self-acceptance.”
  • “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.”

Fairfax High School students at NAMIWalks Northern Virginia 2012.

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!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Don’t Forget to Share Love and Thanks

By Lisa D'Alessio

“I can’t wait for 2012 to be over.”

I’ve heard this a lot in the past few months, from friends across different social and professional groups. Maybe you’ve heard it among your own friends and family.

The thing is, even though this year has been challenging for me and many of my peers, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the same exact sentiment from one person or another every year as it winds down.

It’s a statement that blames the year itself, as though a collection of days and months can be blamed for the ebb and flow of life’s joys, challenges and inevitable losses.

I lost a friend in July to suicide. It shook me to my core. I had sensed that she was sad and unhappy with her life but I didn’t feel that I was a close enough with her to explore further, to offer help or to acknowledge the sadness I saw in her eyes. I regret not taking a quiet moment to just sit and be with her as a friend in need of companionship, support and love. On a professional level it made me question myself; couldn’t I have done something to help her?

No one is a stranger to personal tragedy or loss and these feelings can be amplified during the holidays. In this season of thanks we focus on the good and positive in life because that is the nature of this special time of year.

With that in mind, remember to take good care of yourself, your friends and loved ones during this holiday. Taking a moment to check in with a friend or relative in a quiet moment, without provocation or motive other than to simply show you care can make all the difference for someone who may be struggling to maintain their emotional equilibrium.

Life is fleeting and I have learned this past year that it’s often shorter than we anticipate for the ones we love. It’s easy to forget that between the punctuated moments of revelry and fun, there can be real pain and personal crisis that is all too alienating. 

Show those around you that you are thankful for their presence in your life and open yourself up to supporting and helping them when they need it. You will never regret taking the time to show empathy, love and thanks.

Lisa D'Alessio is a licensed professional counselor and works with people living with mental illness in Northern Virginia.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mental Health Survey: College Students Speak

By Dana Crudo, NAMI Child and Adolescent Action Center program manager

As I imagine most young adults feel, I started my first year of college with nervous anticipation. Going away to college provided a fresh start on a new life but also the pressure to make the most of the opportunity. Also, although I had an exciting future ahead of me, I still had the weight of my past with me that made campus life difficult.

Growing up with a parent with bipolar disorder and brain damage had left its mark on me—I still often experienced anxiety, feelings of powerlessness and isolation while away at school. I still struggled to cope effectively and find people who could understand. I learned quickly that no amount of distance from my family situation could change how I felt or the fact that my childhood didn’t quite match up with those of my peers, which I realized more and more as I socialized with new people my age.

I found hope while reading a campus newspaper article about student depression that mentioned NAMI on Campus, student-led mental health campus clubs. I knew immediately I had found an invaluable resource that could help me and others at my school.

In my junior year of college, I created NAMI’s University of Arizona campus club. Through it I established a wonderful supportive community that really made a positive impact on my life. The club empowered me to learn more about mental health and how to support my family while maintaining my own health. I saw directly how valuable peer support, self-advocacy and knowing you’re not alone can be.

Through our club’ campus-wide mental health awareness activities, student-run discussion group and our partnership with NAMI Southern Arizona (one of many local NAMI Affiliates nationwide), I learned about the issues that all college students face when it comes to mental health and how I can help address these issues.

As I enter my seventh year working for NAMI, I have learned a great deal about the mental health needs of college students. NAMI just recently published a national survey report on the experiences of college students living with mental health conditions. The report is a blueprint for what students want. Here are some highlights:

  • Sixty-four percent of students who stopped attending college are no longer attending because of mental health related reasons. The primary diagnoses of these students are depression, bipolar disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Seventy-two percent of students experienced a mental health crisis on campus. Yet 34 percent reported that their college did not know about their crisis.
  • Fifty-seven percent of students did not access accommodations through college disability resource centers, often citing that they were unaware such services and supports existed or did not know how to access them. Forty percent of students did not access mental health services and supports at their school.
  • Thirty-six percent students cited stigma as a barrier to accessing their college’s mental health services and supports, making it the number one reason students don’t access treatment.

Students emphasized the critical need for the following services and supports to be available on campus:

  • Mental health training for faculty, staff and students.
  • Suicide prevention programs.
  • Peer-run, student mental health organizations.
  • Mental health information during campus tours, orientation, health classes and other campus-wide events.
  • Walk-in student health centers, 24-hour crisis hotlines, ongoing individual counseling services, screening and evaluation services and comprehensive referrals to off-campus services and supports.

As the survey shows and as other countless research findings have shown, mental health issues impact college students and they need our support. Most will experience these issues for the first time in their lives while attending college—catching them by surprise and leaving them ill-prepared to handle these issues on their own. They are not seeking help because they don’t know where or who to go to or they fear being negatively perceived by their campus community.

Every young adult deserves an understanding, helpful and supportive community like NAMI on Campus to turn to when life gets hard.

That is why NAMI has launched a new NAMI on Campus initiative and our commitment to college students. The NAMI on Campus website includes new resource sections to:

  • Learn more about college mental health.
  • Get involved with NAMI on Campus clubs.
  • Access resources for students, faculty and staff.
  • Connect with others.

Most of all, we want to hear more from college students—you! What resources, tools or information do you need to address mental health issues at your local college communities? How can NAMI help? Please feel free to email me at danac@nami.org with suggestions.

Through my own life and my years working with young adults, I have seen firsthand how just one meaningful connection can really change the course of someone’s life. Working together, we can make these connections for every young adult in need. Let’s get started!



Sunday, November 11, 2012

NAMI's Thank You to Veterans

By Jean Moore, Manager, Military and Veterans Policy and Support

The National Alliance on Mental Illness and its Veterans and Military Council salutes all veterans of the United States Armed Forces and their families. Thank you for your courage and commitment in defense of our nation’s constitution and for preserving our quality and way of life.

While we are grateful for your selfless service, we are also concerned. Some of you have returned with broken spirits and broken minds. You may feel stressed-out, irritable, depressed and alone. It can be difficult getting through the day; only to be greeted by sleepless nights. Some of you are crying out for help and not being heard.

On this Veterans Day be encouraged to know that you are not alone. Trust that help is available. Reach out and seek wellness; and may each of you be given access to the timely, compassionate and quality care and services that each of you deserve.

You are deserving. You are special. You have a story to tell from which we can all draw inspiration.  After all, you protected, defended and preserved the principles and ideals that define our democracy; you embody exceptional character and values. Least of these values is personal integrity: being true to oneself and doing what is right even when no one is looking.

We urge those of you suffering in silence to demonstrate your courage off the battlefield and reach out for help. Seeking wellness does not mean that you are weak or a coward. It means that you are being self-reliant, demonstrating leadership and completing the mission by coming home and making yourself whole.

If you are in crisis, please call 911, go to your nearest emergency room or call the Veterans Crisis Line, available 24/7 at 1 (800) 273-8255 (Spanish/EspaƱol 1 (888) 628-9454). Veterans press “1” after you call. You can also chat live online with a crisis counselor 24/7 by visiting www.veteranscrisisline.net.

If you are not in crisis, we encourage you to find information, gain insight and get support by visiting www.nami.org and connecting to our Education, Training and Peer Support Programs.

Once again, thank you for your service during both wartime and moments of peace.

Jean is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, with an honoroable discharge from the U.S. Air Force where she served as a mental health clinic manger and technician.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cante' Wast'e Win: Breaking the Cycle of Historical Trauma

By Elicia Goodsoldier

The author is a board member of NAMI Boulder County (Colo.) and member of NAMI’s American Indian and Alaska Native Networking Group. For discussion of historical trauma and the expression of pain as a means toward healing, see also her article Native American tribal communities provide hope for overcoming historical trauma.

My Cunksi (daughter), Cante' Wast'e Win (Good Hearted Woman) began taekwondo at the age of 8. I thought, “maybe she might like it if she tried it.” I just assumed my boys would love the heck out of it. As it so happens, the story was quite opposite. Cante' loved class and in some way, loved the idea of being great at a sport historically dominated by men and not highly represented by American Indians.

The creed of the martial arts school she attends is “you can accomplish anything.” Being a parent, you always try to instill this concept in your children. I always tell my daughter that she can accomplish anything no matter the situation. And every time she faces an obstacle, she remembers this and says, “Yes, I can do it. I can accomplish anything.” 

After three years of practicing diligently, she will be testing for her recommended black belt in February 2013. Sometimes, I think to myself, “Wow, my daughter is 11 and will be a black belt!?” I add the question mark, because, at that age I would have never thought that I could accomplish what she's done, even if I had the opportunity. It made me think of all the other young girls out there, who come from historically disenfranchised communities. I wondered if they had the same opportunities as my daughter. Could they have a chance to accomplish the things they want in life?

Living on the Pine Ridge reservation for eight or so years, I encountered many young girls who believed their lives were just confined to the “rez.” They would do as most their female relatives do—maybe graduate high school, have some children, try to find a job, but really what do they get to accomplish? I was stunned at the attitudes that these young women had about themselves! It made me sad and mad, all at once. I felt like shaking them and telling them that this does not have to be their life.

When you look at the historical traumas of our people, it's not hard to wonder why they think this way. Some might be aware of it and some might not. It's important to understand our history. I try, even though it's hard, to teach my children their history.

When I look at my Cunksi in this picture, I like to think that she's getting ready to break down all the walls of oppression and privilege. She's getting to ready to break that cycle of trauma and pain. The look on her face is one of perseverance, truth and accomplishment. Her little brother Tatanka Hahin (Slow Buffalo) is seen in the bottom left of the picture, looking and waiting for her to break that cycle. I'd like to think he's getting ready too.

For more information on mental health care issues within the American Indian and Alaska Native community, visit the NAMI’s American Indian/Alaska Native Resources.