Looking back, Heather Andrew says, she probably should have known: she had worked in mental health, had had a diagnosis — and one she believed she couldn’t talk about, even with colleagues whose job was to understand and even as she took the medication that helped.
But when her son’s downward spiral started, it was hard to find what he needed. That’s why she and her partner, Jeremy Douglas, have become so committed to the National Alliance for Mental Illness’ range of programs.
Those include support groups for people recovering from illness, run by people who have been through crisis. NAMI’s family-to-family groups can help families discover what they can do to help when one member is in distress, learning from families that have already been through it.
NAMI’s education programs help people and families who, as Douglas put it, “are trying to build a plane while you’re trying to fly it.”
So Andrew and Douglas will be among the volunteers on National Alliance for Mental Illness-Coastal Virginia’s first Beach to Battleship Walk on Saturday.
The aim is to promote awareness of mental health issues, reduce the stigma that many suffer and reassure people struggling with mental illness that they are not alone.
Tackling that sense of isolation can be particularly important.
“Once I got over the stigma, and starting talking about it, I kept hearing from people who’d say ‘Oh yeah, we dealt with that with my cousin,’ or maybe ‘We had that with my husband’s nephew,’” Andrew said. “It affects more people than you realize.”
There are plenty of gaps in the system, whether people have health insurance or rely on the public system of community mental health services.
For Andrew’s son, for instance, after insurance paid for not enough days in the hospital, there was the question of where the young adult could live, of how he was supposed to manage being in a day program when he needed to work to pay his bills, whether there’d be someone to make sure he was sticking to a treatment program.
Finding a path around the gaps, like understanding what mental illness entails, is a key part of what NAMI support groups and, especially, its classes are about, Douglas said.
“It doesn’t just go away,” he said.
Instead of a group walking the entire distance, NAMI is inviting people to walk on Virginia Beach Boulevard on any of the one-mile legs it designated from the Oceanfront to Nauticus in downtown Norfolk. People are invited to walk at any time Saturday.
Many of the volunteer walkers plan to carry signs, and the NAMI mascot, a llama,
“We adopted the llama as our mascot because they help people with their physical challenges (carrying items), and NAMI helps with mental health challenges,” said Jen Williams, one of the organizers of the walk.
Anyone who wants to join in can vvisit www.namicoastalvirginia.org/namiwalks-treasure or contact John Ickes, the event chair, at [email protected]
Dave Ress, 757-247-4535, [email protected]
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