By Daniel H. Gillison, Jr.
For the past two years, we have all struggled with unrelenting stress, isolation, uncertainty and doubt. Many of us have become fatigued waiting for things to return to “normal” — as mask mandates have gone back and forth between being lifted and reinstated, as new variants of COVID-19 have emerged, as we’ve received mixed signals about going back to the office or going back to school.
These times have been — and continue to be — challenging for everyone. And everyone needs support during these difficult times. We all need people who care about us. We all need people to check in on us and ask, “How are you really doing?”
But support can be tough to find.
Mental health support is needed now more than ever. But unfortunately, due to a system that was fragmented long before the pandemic started, a shortage of mental health professionals and workforce burnout, counseling services are also harder to access now more than ever.
If you’ve found yourself struggling to find the support you need, you are not alone, and NAMI is here to help.
Here at NAMI, we believe that support means meeting people where they are. Support is about offering a judgment-free space and making people feel heard. It’s about understanding that anyone can be affected by a mental health condition — no matter their age, race, religion or nationality. It’s about finding a community that cares and listens with empathy, compassion and cultural humility.
In 1979, a group of families gathered around a kitchen table to figure out how they could support each other when they weren’t able to find institutional help; that’s how NAMI began. And that’s how we continue to support people living with mental conditions who find themselves with nowhere else to turn — through peer-led interventions led by people who relate.
In 1999 and 2007, NAMI developed our two signature support groups:
These two groups are separate because support for an individual living with a mental health condition and support for a caregiver or family member often look different, and it’s important to make sure that everyone’s unique needs can be accounted for. Support can also often look different for different cultures, which is why NAMI recently launched Sharing Hope and Compartiendo Esperanza, support resources for Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities.
All of NAMI’s support groups are peer-led, meaning that the person facilitating the group has also been affected by mental illness and can likely relate to what brought you to the group. Everything discussed in the confines of the group is confidential; so you don’t have to worry about facing stigma and discrimination.
For many, joining a support group can foster feelings of connection and belonging. It can also help build confidence and self-empowerment because you not only receive support, you also get to help others too.
Experiencing symptoms of mental health conditions others may not understand, like psychosis or compulsions, can feel scary. It can be intimidating to talk about what you are going through — especially if you belong to a culture, profession or gender category where you are deterred from being vulnerable or perceived as “weak.”
If you need a safe space to talk, a NAMI group may be the support you’ve been looking for.
To find and join a group near you, all you have to do is search for what support groups are offered by your local NAMI affiliates. You can also contact NAMI’s HelpLine Monday–Friday from 10 a.m.–10 p.m. ET.
Daniel H. Gillison is the chief executive officer of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Prior to his work at NAMI, he served as executive director of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF) in addition to several other leadership roles at large corporations such as Xerox, Nextel, and Sprint. He is passionate about making inclusive, culturally competent mental health resources available to all people, spending time with his family, and playing tennis. You can follow him on Twitter at @DanGillison.
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