The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Athens acts as a voice for the voiceless and aid for those in need of support. NAMI has provided services to Athens for a number of years and has steered its initiative to the need for greater good.
“Our mission is threefold—education, advocacy and support,” Adrienne Nagy, board president of NAMI Athens, said. “What that means is education about mental illness. We're continually trying to educate the public to know that mental illness is an illness like any other illness—it's a biochemical imbalance in the brain. It's no different than diabetes or heart failure. People don't see it that way, and there's so much stigma attached. The next one—support, for families who are dealing with somebody who has a severe mental illness, to give support to the family and to help them. Advocacy—advocating for people with mental illness in general in specifics, advocating for families and whatever we need to do.”
Members of NAMI consist of people who have been touched by mental illness, usually having a family member that experienced mental illness. These members range from all over Athens—some have been attendees of NAMI meetings to begin their journey.
“While I initially came to NAMI for support, I have learned that NAMI Athens does so much more,” Jodie Lucas, NAMI Athens’ treasurer, said in a message. “Through NAMI police officers are provided crisis intervention training; the annual Walk the Walk provides public awareness; our nature trail on the Ridges and the annual Memorial Day service provide a place and time to honor those who lost their battle with mental illness; and our new guardianship program provides advocacy for those who have no one else to speak for them. I am so proud to be a member of this incredible organization.”
With the help of grants and restoration, NAMI was able to start a bigger project. This project included cleaning the cemetery at The Ridges. In order to provide dignity to those buried there, NAMI helped restore broken graves, build onto the trails and clean the surrounding area.
Taking place at The Ridges, NAMI also hosts a walk to bring awareness to mental illness called Walk the Walk. The walk takes place in October, around Mental Health Awareness Week.
In house, NAMI hosts structured programs targeted for families with those that have been affected by mental illness. Alongside meetings, they host different speakers that help educate the people of Athens. Furthermore, another action NAMI takes is a jail diversion program that trains police officers to recognize those with mental illness and help them seek treatment, rather than jail. NAMI’s goal is to educate others on how to recognize mental illness in order to protect themself and the person needing assistance.
Through the programs, in recent years, NAMI has been able to build its network and advocacy in Athens.
“We've been able to increase programming,” Tina Trimmer, NAMI Athens’ executive director, said. “We've been able to do more. We were offered the chance to run this guardianship program in conjunction with the 317 Board and it has been such an important service that we are providing. No other organization around here does guardianships, and we are gradually expanding, and regionally, so outside of our county limits. I just recently got a grant that allows me to pick up a few cases outside of our county.”
Mental health comes with a stigma—a stigma meaning that it’s abnormal to have mental illness. The people of NAMI seek to terminate the stigma and that starts with finding ways to help. Finding an action to take sparks the beginning of the turmoil for change.
“I think just spreading the word that we exist and that there is hope,” Nagy said.
Lucas was able to find a safe space in NAMI and she encourages those in need of hope and a listening ear to do the same.
“During the worst of the crisis I discovered the NAMI family support group,” Lucas said. “There I found people who understood what I was experiencing. I found people who gave me hope from the other side of the crisis; who could give me ideas on how to navigate the seriously inequitable mental health system; who could empower me to advocate on behalf of my loved one; and with whom I could express my grief and anger.”