NAMI works to educate and support

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 3, 2011

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles focusing on Mental Illness Awareness Week.
By Susan Agner
For the Salisbury Post
NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, established in 1979. It is the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness.
NAMI has a national organization, as well as state organizations and local affiliates in more than 1,100 communities across the country, incluing Rowan County. Through the dedicated efforts of grassroots leaders, NAMI focuses on three cornerstones of activity that offer hope, reform and health: Support, education and advocacy.
In recognition of NAMI’s efforts to raise mental illness awareness, Congress established in 1990 the first week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW). This year, MIAW is October 2-8. The theme is “Changing attitudes, changing lives.” During this week, NAMI affiliates across the nation plan special activities in their communities. One of NAMI Rowan’s events is a “Celebration of Success” luncheon on Thursday, Oct. 6. An education program about mental illness is provided for the Rowan community. Those with a mental illness diagnosis are recognized for their success with Certificates of Achievement.
During the year, NAMI Rowan provides monthly support groups and education programs. NAMI also sponsors evidenced-based family-to-family and peer-to-peer educational programs at no cost. Specially trained NAMI volunteers provide the education. Family-to-family programs meet for 12 weeks, 2[0xbd] hours each week, for family members of those diagnosed with mental illness. The volunteers that provide family-to-family have a lived experience with someone diagnosed with mental illness. Peer-to-peer programs meet for 10 weeks, 2[0xbd] hours each week, for those with a diagnosis of mental illness. The volunteers that provide peer-to-peer have been diagnosed with mental illness and have achieved success in recovery.
NAMI programs teach that mental illness is a brain disorder. The brain is the most important organ in the body. It has more than 100 billion neurons (brain cells). Signals to and from the neurons cross trillions of connections called synapses. Properly balanced brain chemicals facilitate connections between the neurons. When people learn about the brain in the NAMI classes, they realize that there is much that can go wrong. It is not surprising then to learn of the impact of mental illnesses on the quality of life.
According to information from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), mental illnesses are common. About 26 percent of the population (1 in 4 Americans) 18 years of age and older suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in a given year. Based on the 2004 Census, the 26 percent of the population translates to 57.7 million people in America with a diagnosable mental illness.
According to information from the World Health Association in 2004, mental illness is the major cause of disability in the United States.
Until the 1990s, research into the cause of mental illness was poorly funded and misunderstood. During the 1990s, researchers experienced success in funding for brain research and made much much progress in understanding that mental illnesses had a biological basis. The NIMH decreed this period to be the “Decade of the brain.”
Now the fall 2011 NAMI Advocate magazine reports that Patrick Kennedy announced the launch of the “One Mind for Research” campaign. The campaign is designed to connect the approximately 50 disease-specific groups that affect the brain or nervous system to work collaboratively in research to find cures for brain disorders. According to the article, “Neurodevelopmental disorders like intellectual disability and autism, neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and neuropsychiatric disorders like schizophrenia are connected under its vision.” Mental illnesses are recognized with other biologically based brain disorders.
For those families living with the effects of mental illness, NAMI offers an opportunity to learn about brain disability and optimize quality of life.
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Susan Agner is a member of NAMI Rowan.