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Let’s Talk Mental Health

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One extraordinary organization is changing the stigma surrounding mental-health issues.

By Mary Murphy, Photos courtesy of NAMI Austin

NAMI Austin Executive Director Karen Ranus.

Imagine your brain constantly telling you you’re worthless or not deserving of love. Imagine feeling so anxious about a social interaction that you can’t breathe or stop your heart from racing. Imagine not being able to live the life you want because your mind is telling you not to leave the house. These are all examples of the grim realities those living with mental illnesses face on a daily basis. As if the symptoms weren’t bad enough, now imagine not being able to get any help simply because you can’t afford it. Having a mental illness and lacking affordable health care needed for treatment is nationwide epidemic, but organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, are stepping up to take care of those impacted by mental disorders, regardless of their pay grade.

NAMI Austin, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the country’s largest mental-health organization. Founded in 1984, NAMI Austin is proudly celebrating 34 years of being dedicated to improving the lives of all people affected by mental illness, providing no-cost classes, support groups, community education and advocacy for families, individuals and the community. The organization strives to change the way our community views and addresses mental-health issues.

The increased amount of research on mental illnesses within the past 30 years is staggering, yet according a study by the World Health Organization, depression is the No. 1 cause of disability for those age 15 to 44. This better understanding allows those with mental illness to know they are not alone, there is nothing wrong with them and that there are ways to cope.

Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions about mental health is that mental-health conditions are personality flaws rather than brain-based disorders. With one in five Americans experiencing a mental illness, it’s time our society takes a step back from the stigmas placed on mental illness and instead, approaches the issue with an open mind in learning about mental health, seeing the individual and not just the illness.

That’s where NAMI Austin comes in. Through classes, support groups and advocacy, NAMI is changing the lives of those living with mental disorders.

While the organization offers different classes throughout the year, its three signature classes—NAMI Family-to-Family, NAMI Peer-to-Peer and NAMI Basics are always offered to the Austin community. NAMI Family-to-Family is a free 12-session educational program for the family, partners, friends and significant others of adults living with mental illness. This class includes information about common illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and more. Those attending these sessions gain a better understanding of mental illness, increase their coping skills and advocacy abilities, expand their understanding and how to support loved ones and how to maintain their own well-being. Similarly, NAMI Peer-to-Peer is a free 10-week session educational program and NAMI Basics is a free six-session educational program for parents and caregivers whose children are experiencing signs of or have been diagnosed with mental-health issues.

With a total of 159 support-group meetings in 2017, including the popular Family Support Group, NAMI Connection Recovery and the new #OK2Talk teen support group, NAMI Austin continues to positively impact the community. The goal of the #OK2Talk group is to provide a safe, structured environment in which teens can experience support, develop better coping skills and connect with other teens living with mental-health conditions.

Austinites don’t have to be directly impacted by mental-health issues to make a difference in the community. NAMI Austin will host its next #StigmaFree Walk event Sept. 29. This walk is the biggest fundraiser for the organization and aims to build awareness, end the stigma associated with mental illness and raise funds to provide support, education and advocacy programs at no cost.

Whether you need resources, class schedules, volunteer opportunities or just want to stay up to date on all things NAMI Austin, visit namiaustin.org and follow the group at @namiaustin on Facebook and Twitter.

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