Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Connecting with Others

By Emma Volesky

Emma Volesky. Photo: Courtesy

I attended the NAMI National Convention for the first time last year. When I first heard about the convention, I knew at once I had to go. Not only did I want to go, I needed to go. Just the idea of going made me excited. Now, having experienced the convention firsthand, I can say that it is a hundred times better than I could have ever imagined.

The awesome presentations I attended, the brave people I heard speaking and the helpful coping skills I learned made the convention a very worthwhile trip for me. But most of all, the memories and friendships I got to take home with me made the convention even more meaningful to me.

One of the most wonderful things I experienced while at the convention was meeting people who understood what I have been through. For years and years, I isolated myself from the world. I felt worthless, sickening and inadequate and everything else someone living with a mental health condition can feel. These kinds of thoughts had me believing that I was every one of those things, which ultimately led me to the worst belief of all: that I was alone.

I was alone. This belief pulled me down into a pit of misery. I got pulled deeper and deeper every second I felt alone. Even though I was in recovery when I first heard about the convention, I still felt like there was a big chance that the convention could help me feel even better and it did! I got to meet other young adults like me at the young adult networking session during convention. We talked about the issues most important to us and had fun the rest of the convention together. I now know without a doubt that I am never alone.

Also at the convention, I became aware of all the new opportunities at NAMI that exist for young adults and that can help me change the world. I had been speaking about my mental illness since I was 17 years old, but now I speak with even more intelligence because of everything I learned attending workshops during the convention.

Everyone impacted by mental health conditions should go to NAMI’s conventions. There are a lot of reasons they should go that range far and wide. For me, the biggest reason is that I learned I am making a big difference in my life and in the lives of others just by attending the convention. The convention empowers people to be themselves without their mental health condition keeping them back.

Being at the convention showed me that there is hope. There still is the stigma of mental illness but it can be defeated by something as simple as attending conventions held by NAMI. This is a humungous step toward fighting stigma in my opinion.

All in all, the NAMI National Convention last year impacted me in a very good way more than anything has before. It gave me confidence to go further in my life! I can't wait for the 2013 convention to see my friends and to learn more about how I can be an effective young adult leader.

I hope to see even more young adults and adults there this summer. And a few last words: 2013 NAMI NATIONAL CONVENTION HERE I COME!!!!!

NAMI is excited to announce that the 2013 NAMI National Convention will include the first ever young adult track. This track will equip young adults with the skills they need to make a difference in their communities, in the lives of their friends and in their own lives. It will include powerful workshops and special sessions, social events, creative activities and a unique skill-building leadership training specifically for young adults. To learn more about this opportunity for young adults, click here.  


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Another Look at Sandy Hook

By Julie Benn, NAMI San Diego

As yet another violent massacre occurs in our country—this one involving children, so it makes it all the harder to take—I pause to think about it, as I have done so often since the news broke on Dec. 14, 2012. During the chaos, ABC had on a senior medical correspondent, who was an M.D., stating that the tragedy and the gunman was “the face of mental illness.” I immediately took offense. Really? We knew virtually nothing about the shooter at the time, let alone whether or not he had a diagnosed mental illness. Yet, here was the media, already branding him the face of a disease that affects 57.7 million people in our country alone. That's a lot of “faces” that he is supposedly representing.

It may come out, as the news continues to unfold, that mental illness did a play a role. Right now, we just don't know. As an organization, we are putting out the statistics to fight the stigma that will no doubt be a backlash from this tragedy—that people who have mental illness are much more likely to be the victim of violence rather than the perpetrator; that the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small; and that it is important that we not make assumptions or speculate as to what the role of mental illness played in this situation at this time.

However, it's hard for us as a society not to speculate, not to make assumptions as to the sanity of a person who would willingly shoot his own mother and then go into a school and shoot kids and the adults trying to protect them. It's hard for us not to jump to the conclusion that this was a “crazed gunman” who, at the end, took his own life.

NAMI says that mental illness is an illness like any other. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illness is a disorder of the brain. However, right now, I find myself questioning that. Is mental illness truly “an illness like any other?” Does diabetes make a person want to harm themselves or others? Does high blood pressure distort messages in the mind and make a person feel that they are called to kill? Does cancer create voices that drive a person to crime?

Or, is this type of behavior unique to mental illness? Is mental illness, rather, “an illness like none other?” And should it be treated as such? Maybe it is, indeed, a very special illness that requires very special treatment. One that requires early prevention and intervention and that treatment should be wholly available to anyone who needs it.

I have mental illness. I have not killed myself or anyone else, but I have caused harm. Not criminal harm, but harm nonetheless in the form of self-abuse and, at times, adversely affecting those who love me. At times, I have been very upfront in sharing my journey with mental illness. Other times, in certain circles of people, I have pretended that portion of my journey just doesn't exist. Maybe that needs to change.

If any good can come out of the Newtown tragedy, it may be that mental health will be front and center on the nation's agenda. Treating mental illness, talking about mental illness, confronting issues that affect mental health will take as much precedence as treating and talking about other physical health disorders.

But, in order for that to happen, mental illness needs to come out of the closet, out of the darkness, out of the impenetrable silence. We need to be able to simply talk about it in our country, in our state, our neighborhoods, and our families.

The President has now called for a national dialogue on mental illness, which is supposed to be launched this spring. His proposal includes:

  • Early identification and intervention including training for teachers, school resource officers and others in a position to spot the signs of mental illness and provide assistance.
  • Steps for improving mental health and substance abuse treatment for individuals between the ages of 16 and 25.
  • Finalizing mental health parity regulations for health insurance.
  • Training more than 5,000 additional mental health professionals to serve students and young adults.
  • Launching efforts to improve understanding of mental illness and the importance of mental health treatment.

These are all wonderful intentions; the test will be whether the President, Congress and state governments follow through. For if mental health is not talked about, the downside of it is that the problems don't go away. Rather they can go underground, growing and festering until they come out the other side as something unrecognizable, unfathomable, and yes, tragic.

The good news is that we know mental illness is treatable—in that way it is an illness like many others. We can't cure it yet, but living in recovery is possible. Remission is possible; as is relapse. It requires close monitoring and support, and often medications and counseling.

Like Type 1 diabetes, dealing with mental illness is a lifelong process. Unlike diabetes, mental illness can cause some odd beliefs and behavior, but it is still manageable; tricky, sometimes, but ultimately treatable.

And this is where the conversation should be headed.

Monday, February 11, 2013

How I Found a Home at School

By Megan Rogers

Lindsey Racz, center, vice president of NAMI on Campus North
Carolina State, and Megan Rogers, right, president, at a suicide
candlelight vigil in September 2012. Courtesy Megan Rogers.

My freshman year at N.C. State was one of solitude, of isolation and trips home every weekend. Struggling with bouts of depression that had been lingering since high school, I rarely left my room outside of class and meals throughout the entire year, and accordingly, I did not make a single friend. Not knowing where to turn to, I maintained this lifestyle until the beginning of my sophomore year. Then, everything changed.

When scouring my email for anything important, I stumbled upon an advertisement for an event: “The National Alliance on Mental Illness: First General Meeting.” As a psychology major and someone who holds mental health issues dear to her heart, I immediately felt a connection and decided to attend. Walking into that meeting was one of the most intimidating things I had done in college up to that point; I almost walked away due to my unfounded anxieties and fears. However, once I took my first steps inside, I was met by some of the friendliest, understanding, and supportive people I have met to this day.

Serving as last year’s secretary and this year’s president of our branch of NAMI on Campus has broadened my horizons and increased my passion for mental health education and advocacy. During my time as an officer, we have planned and implemented a variety of activities and events that have benefited students, all with the aim of raising awareness and educating students about mental illness on campus. Some of these events an annual suicide prevention candlelight vigil, where we partner with our campus’s counseling center and other groups to remember those who have died by suicide and educate the community on suicide prevention; biannual movie nights, where we select popular films that depict mental illness to watch and thoroughly discuss; and biannual de-stress events held in a popular area of campus that help students relax and learn about stress management techniques before final exam week. Our group tries, as a whole, to make every event that we hold both enjoyable and informative.

Other events that our NAMI on Campus group holds are a NAMI In Our Own Voice presentation each year, as well as hosting a QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer) Suicide Prevention Training session for members of the campus community to attend. We also form a team for the annual NAMI North Carolina NAMIWalk and had a Super Team for the first time this past year. Aside from that, NAMI on Campus N.C. State started a peer support group last spring. Though the group is still small, it has a solid foundation through our officers and is sure to grow in the upcoming years.

A banner created for a Veteran's Day event raising awareness of
PTSD. Courtesy Megan Rogers.

Over the past few years, our NAMI on Campus group has been steadily increasing our membership and presence across campus. By not only providing education, but also advocacy and support, we hope to positively influence the lives of those around us in the campus community. No one should have to suffer in silence, fearful of stigmatization. No one should feel as though they are alone and misunderstood. No one should feel like I did.

That is why NAMI on Campus exists. That is why I am proud to be the President of our NAMI on Campus group. We strive each and every day to make a difference in the lives of the individuals in our campus community and raise awareness to ultimately end the stigma surrounding mental illness.

From a personal standpoint, joining NAMI on Campus has been one of the most life-changing things I have done in college. It has given me solidification in my career decision to pursue my doctorate in clinical psychology to both practice and conduct research. It has provided me close friendships with people I am now proud to call my best friends. But most of all, it has put me in a position where I have the ability to make an impact on others’ lives in the same way that mine has been affected, help others the way I was helped. That, perhaps, is all the difference.

Megan Rogers is the president of NAMI on Campus North Carolina State.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Disclosure and Relationships

By Linea Johnson

This blog also appeared on Strength of Us, an online social community from NAMI designed for young adults living with mental illness.

Having hard conversations in a relationship is never easy, but when you add a mental health condition to the list it can be even harder. This blog is going to talk about how to maintain healthy relationships when your friends and partners already know of your mental health condition, but may know nothing about it in your life. To learn how to disclose read this post on dating and disclosure.

Once you have disclosed your illness it is important to start building a safe space where you and your friends or partner can discuss personal things. In order to build a safe space you need to work on disclosing personal information about your condition that may help them better understand your struggles and needs. This can be done in small steps whether it is building the strength to feel comfortable telling them when you have doctor or counseling appointments or being honest if you have to pick up medication for your condition. These are small things in your life that will begin to give them an idea of how this is a part of your life, but also that you are willing to take the time to take care of yourself.

[Check out Linea talking about finding hope in her video for NAMI's You Are Not Alone.]

The next step is getting to the point where you can discuss how much you want to talk about your illness and how you want to do it. You may just feel comfortable letting them know you have a diagnosis, but may not yet feel comfortable telling them all the gritty details. It is important to not only talk about your illness but to lay some ground rules for how much you feel comfortable sharing. It may be good to tell them that they can ask you questions but that you may not feel comfortable answering them all.

The important place to get to is to be able to tell your loved ones when you are having a bad day due to your condition and to let them know how they can help you. By being honest you can begin to be yourself on the days when it is hardest to cover up your illness. This can make it okay for you to have a bad day without having to act strong or to act like what you may see as your version of “normal.” In building a safe place where you can begin to tell small things about your needs you can finally start feeling comfortable being yourself and build stronger lasting bonds with the people in your life.

Linea is a recent graduate from Seattle University, with a major in English and Creative Writing. She is a national speaker and author of Perfect Chaos, a memoir that captures her experiences as a young adult with bipolar disorder.