Growing Up Strong with NAMI
by Destin Strauss, Stigma Buster and Advisory Member of the Board, NAMI Lexington (Ky.)
Life happens and you have to stay strong as you go on the journey. I had to grow up quickly when my Mom suddenly stopped teaching in 2004 due to health issues. I started attending NAMI events in 2006 after my mom took Family-to-Family. When mom became a volunteer, she and three other African American sistas started NAMI Lexington’s multicultural action committee, MAC DIVAS and DADIS (Diversity In Victorious Active Service and Dedicated, Assertive, Devoted, Inspiring Servants).
I began to learn about mental illness and became a Stigma Buster. My mom began talking openly about having manic depression and how she had struggled since the age of 15 with suicidal thoughts. She also spoke openly about how our culture doesn't talk about mental health issues—that being diagnosed with diabetes or cancer was more accepted than a mental health diagnosis.
At age 12, I became active with Family-to-Family and the NAMI Family Support Group. I supported my mom's leadership roles and attempted to start a youth support group thought it didn't materialize at that time. I have participated in our NAMIWalks, set up booths at community events and now serve as the Teen Advisory Board Member for NAMI Lexington. My mom is now the multicultural outreach coordinator and Sharing Hope program director.
I have spoken to groups of young people on numerous occasions and venues. In seventh grade, I started attending the 874 K Rally (874,000 Kentuckians with Disabilities) in Frankfort. In eighth grade I started advocating for replacement of the 187-year-old Eastern State Hospital by contacting my senator to ask for support and I spoke at a town hall meeting our governor attended. Our efforts paid off and we are having a new hospital built! I was at the groundbreaking ceremony with Gov. Steve Beshear.
I truly believe that being a committed volunteer has helped me to develop strong leadership skills. My spiritual background also plays a big part in my life and helps me to stay grounded. I am graduating from high school in June and plan to attend Eastern Kentucky University. The future looks bright as I go forward hoping to continue to make a difference in the world around me.