By Jill and Simon Shute
A NAMIWalk is made up of people living with a mental illness, their families, friends, caring professionals and members of the community who all join forces to celebrate and further NAMI’s mission. At our NAMIWalk in Delaware, we are all strengthened by the courage, enthusiasm, compassion, admiration and inspiration that swells through the crowd as we march for mental health advocacy, support and education. Together we energize and encourage one another to keep our eyes on the two-fold prize of destroying stigma and finding a cure.
NAMI Delaware has been blessed over the years to have the continuing participation and support of a number of officials at the local, state and national levels, including Sen. Thomas Carper. Although the walk is a fundraising event, for our family it also serves as a vehicle to inform others about the facts about mental illness.
Several years ago our son’s life was tragically shortened. A major factor leading to his death was the stigma surrounding mental illness. So we keep our focus on working to stop the stigma.
Our team is named the S.O.S. Team, which stands for Stamp Out Stigma. While stigma continues to linger in our society, those living with a mental illness will not receive the full acceptance, services and respect they deserve. We are painfully aware that until the stigma surrounding mental illness is eradicated, families new to mental illness will continue to feel lost and alone. Those who are living with the symptoms will still feel forced to live in the shadows. Since stigma occurs due to a lack of understanding, education is the key to weakening its stronghold.
Since that very first NAMIWalk in 2003, the S.O.S. Team has been an inter-generational, eclectic group. Our team includes our extended family and friends from church and our neighborhood; folks from our family support group, which we have been facilitating for over 30 years; and fellow teachers and students from Jill’s school where she has taught math for over 20 years. For many years, the students from the Bark Builders Club (a community service club) at Jill’s school have participated in the walk. They do face painting, lead cheers and assist Jill in what has become the traditional Stamp Out Stigma countdown chant. Throughout the years, scores of young teens have attended the NAMIWalk in this capacity helping them to develop a deeper understanding of the many issues surrounding mental illness.
Long before NAMIWalks became official, our Delaware chapter held a yearly walk through the streets of Wilmington. We carried banners, signs and balloons proclaiming our mission to “support, educate and advocate until there is a cure!” In the early 1980’s we began as a small band of families, but soon our expanding membership led to a growing legislative influence. Our persistent advocacy began to have a positive impact on the state mental health system. We saw significant changes in state policy and improvements in services available to our loved ones. NAMI gave us a channel to funnel our pain and frustration into the positive power of advocacy.
In the past 30 years, NAMI Delaware has grown to be a strong statewide agency, which advocates powerfully, educates freely and supports faithfully. NAMI Delaware has also developed an award-winning housing program, which provides permanent homes for over 240 Delawareans living in recovery. Despite NAMI Delaware’s accomplishments, many of the obstacles faced by our loved ones in the 1980’s are still present, so our commitment to advocacy must not waiver.
Can you imagine a world without stigma where our loved ones receive the respect and care they deserve? Not only can we imagine it, we can work together to make it a reality! So participate in your local NAMIWalk and join others around the country to bring mental illness to the forefront. With your help, the NAMI movement can make this world a better place for us all!
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