Tuesday, June 05, 2007

NAMI - Opening My Eyes

I attended a 3 day facilitator training seminar recently presented by NAMI -the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of persons living with serious mental illness and their families. Founded in 1979, NAMI has become the nation’s voice on mental illness, a national organization including NAMI organizations in every state and in over 1100 local communities across the country who join together to meet the NAMI mission through advocacy, research, support, and education.

As you know, I have dealt with severe depression for years (since 1992). I felt 3-4 years ago God was calling me to address this illness in the church and in other faith based ministries. It is an often ignored and/or misunderstood illness and statistically speaking there are many people (one in 4 according to the National Institute of Mental Health) who, JUST LIKE I DID, sit in pews week after week afraid to ask for help because of the stigma attached.

That stigma will never go away (which means less people will seek help) unless we who have the illness are willing to speak up about it and share our experience. Who better to be able to seek support from than our brothers and sisters in Christ? They first much understand a little of what mental illness is though...and what it is not.

This weekend really opened my eyes. I have never been around other people who have, or talk about having any type of mental illness. I've never attended "group therapy" sessions and had never heard other people say the exact same things that I have thought silently for years! (
I was also left wondering if my true diagnosis should not be bipolar rather than major depression, but if and/or when my meds stop working again, I’ll deal with that then.)

I contacted NAMI about 3 weeks ago because of my desire to help remove this stigma, at least among the Christian community. Shortly afterward I was invited to attend this seminar free of charge! We had National speakers and I was there from that Friday morning at 8 am until Sunday at 2:30 pm - all free of charge. I was able to take that Friday off with a minimum of "painful whining " by my boss. I just can't help but believe this has all fallen together like this because God allowed it. I believe he put this passion inside me for other people who are hurting and ashamed.

I took a spiritual gifts test recently also. My highest score was Mercy. My second was teaching. That is just further assurance that this is something I can indeed do. I have put this off all this time for several reasons, fear, the anxiety I have had in public, not being sure it was God's voice I was hearing, etc. I guess now I have just decided if I wait until I am 100 % sure, I will go to Heaven one day having never done a thing to help anyone in this area.

Just want to let you all know what is going on in my world. Those who pray, pray that I will not be afraid or let the anxiety stand in the way of helping to tear down this wall that hinders so many people from seeking help.


Artemis said...

My thoughts and prayers are with you in this important endeavor.

Mary said...

I just discovered your blog, and wanted to second your good feelings about NAMI. NAMI is full of wonderful people who have all suffered from mental illness - either themselves or in a family member. It's the most non-judgmental group I know. I was just trained to be a part of their speakers bureau, and just gave my second talk (my story) last night to a college class. I've suffered from depression for 25 years off and on, and I'm finding that by telling my story it seems to make some of the things I went through have a bit of a purpose. Both times I've spoken people from the audience have come up afterwards and shared their stories, or told me how I'd helped them to understand something that a friend or family member is going through.

I hope that you will have the opportunity to share your story. It's kind of scary, but I think the more we talk about it, and people see that we're just regular people like them who happen to have a particular illness, the more we can lessen the stigma (at least I hope so, because I've run into some big-time stigma!)

I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog.