By Sarah Kidder
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Founded in 1979, NAMI has local affiliates in all 50 states and in over 1100 communities across the country.
The Kentucky chapter of NAMI has affiliates in dozens of communities across the commonwealth reaching thousands of individuals impacted by mental health conditions and their families and friends. Each affiliate offers an array of outstanding peer-led programs that provide free education, skills training, and support.
These free services are still being offered during the pandemic, just virtually. NAMI Kentucky recognizes that in a time that it is important to stay home and keep distance from others, people need connection and support more than ever before.
Feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression are on the rise and many are calling the increased rates of mental health conditions and substance use disorders a “parallel pandemic”.
A NAMI Kentucky affiliate near you may offer Basics, an educational program for parents and other caregivers of children and adolescents experiencing mental health conditions, or Ending the Silence, a presentation designed to give students an opportunity to learn about mental illness, symptoms and indicators, and information and resources to help someone in need of support.
Many affiliates also offer Family-to-Family, an evidence-based, educational course for families, significant others and friends of people with mental health conditions, providing communication and problem-solving techniques, coping mechanisms, local resources and self-care skills. There are Family Support Groups that are non-judgmental, confidential and supportive led by trained family members.
For consumers, or people who have experienced a mental health condition, NAMI offers Peer-to-Peer, an educational program for adults looking to better understand themselves and their recovery; Connections, a recovery support group for adults with mental health conditions; and In Our Own Voice, an educational program led by trained leaders who have lived experience of mental illness and provide a personal perspective that helps change attitudes, assumptions and ideas about people with mental health conditions.
Military service members and veterans with mental health conditions and their friends and families can take part in Homefront, a program focusing on the unique needs of this community. Compartiendo Esperanza is a program geared toward the lack of information and misconceptions surrounding mental health issues that prevent many members of the Latino community from getting the help and support they need.
NAMI Smarts for Advocacy is a hands-on advocacy training program that helps people living with mental illness, friends, and family transform their passion and lived experience into skillful grassroots advocacy. NAMI Kentucky is lucky to have many passionate advocates engaged in changing policy and is always looking for more!
Each year, NAMI Kentucky strategically selects policy priorities to actively advocate for public policy solutions that improve the lives of people with mental health conditions and their families and friends. With the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2021 Regular Session almost concluded, we have been fighting for:
- Funding for Mental Health: Protect funding for the mental health system and advocate for increases in the state budget for services and supports that impact individuals with mental illness.
- Mental Health Parity: Pass HB 50 by Representative Moser, which would fully implement the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in Kentucky, ensuring equal coverage of mental health and substance use conditions as for physical conditions.
- Mental Health Wellness Exams: Pass HB 77 by Representative Roberts, which would require coverage of annual mental health wellness exams, like annual physical exams, to decrease the average 11-year delay between onset and treatment of mental illness.
- Housing & Employment: Pass HCR 7 by Representative Moser, which would establish a task force to study issues facing adults with severe mental illness, particularly supportive housing and supported employment evidence-based programs that significantly improve chances for recovery.
- Mental Health First Responders: Reform emergency response protocols so mental health professionals are first responders to crises situations, in efforts to end the unintended criminalization of mental health conditions, substance use disorders and developmental disabilities.
If you or someone you know needs support, NAMI Kentucky and its local affiliates across the commonwealth are here for you at 859-225-NAMI, NAMIKY@NAMIKY.org or NAMIKY.org.
-Sarah Kidder is Director of Policy & Research at Bart Baldwin Consulting.