By Mary Giliberti, J.D., NAMI Executive Director
This Thanksgiving season, I am deeply grateful for those who share their stories and experiences to bring hope and help to others. I appreciate those who give time and talent so others may find the journey through mental illness a little less difficult.
This week, I worked on the NAMI HelpLine (1-800-950-6264) and gave thanks for all of our NAMI volunteers who answer calls, teach classes and lead support groups. I spoke to a mom in Texas who was exhausted by her daughter’s recent hospitalization and realized that she needed to get some support so she could be a better caregiver to her daughter. I was so thankful for the support group leaders in her community and in communities around the country.
At our Training of Trainers education event each year, I marvel at all of the ribbons that some of our volunteers wear, indicating that they teach and lead multiple NAMI programs. I ask them when they sleep and they invariably tell me that they get much more than they give. I hear the same from NAMI leaders and volunteers at state meetings and our national convention. And I am so deeply grateful for the transformational power of giving that brings healing and meaning to the experiences of individuals and families affected by mental illness.
I am thankful to prominent individuals who speak out at considerable cost to themselves. We appreciate State Senator Creigh Deeds of Virginia, who is advocating for better mental health care so no family will encounter the barriers that he did in seeking help for his son, Gus—barriers that led to Gus’ death late last year.
I am also grateful to Naomi Alexis, the sister of Aaron Alexis, the man who was sadly involved in the Washington Navy Yard tragedy in September 2013. She has spoken out in the national news media, noting that shame and lack of understanding of mental illness hurt her family’s efforts to seek help for her brother despite her requests. She urged families to contact NAMI for information and assistance.
I also deeply appreciate the inspirational stories that bring people hope for recovery and a passion for change. Noted psychologist and mental health advocate Dr. Patricia Deegan shared with NAMI convention-goers in September her personal journey and the critical role of her grandmother, who repeatedly urged her to go to the grocery store as Pat struggled with apathy and her diagnosis of schizophrenia. One day, Pat decided to go to the store and that small step led to another. Now Dr. Deegan develops tools to help people with mental illness communicate with their doctors about their goals and ensure that the treatment serves those goals.
NAMI’s good friend Patrick Kennedy uses his experience with mental illness and substance use to call us to advocate for equality and true parity, reminding us that discrimination against people with mental illness is the civil rights issue of our time.
As we begin the holiday season, I am grateful for the hope that starts with each of us when we bring light out of darkness and despair. I am thankful for all of the life experiences, difficult and inspirational, that have brought us to this place in life where we can be part of the NAMI movement—a movement that holds a hand, squeezes a shoulder, cries in solidarity, claps in celebration—a movement that cares and fights for a better tomorrow for all affected by mental illness. Happy Thanksgiving!