By Marin Swesey, program manager, NAMI Multicultural Action Center
Sometimes we do not know how to seek information that may be valuable to us if we do not identify why we may need it. If the information seeks us, we may realize how essential it may be in our lives. The feeling of relief and empowerment is a common and one of the most valuable experiences for NAMI members who find our education and support programs. But there are still many who have yet to find that opportunity and may not know to seek it. When mental health is a taboo topic, particularly so among many cultural communities, individuals and families may be coping with unidentified issues and without the tools to find help and support. We know that information on mental illnesses, recovery and accessible supports must be provided in ways that reach individuals who may not be looking for it.
This is why NAMI has developed the tools and the mission to reach cultural groups that face higher levels of stigma in our communities. Among these tools are the Sharing Hope: Understanding Mental Health and Compartiendo Esperanza programs, designed specifically for NAMI leaders to utilize in connecting and building important partnerships within African American and Latino communities to share this gift of education and support.
Each features an interactive presentation given by a person living with a mental illness and a family member and take away booklets (A Family Guide to Mental Health: What You Need to Know and There is No Health Without Mental Health/ No hay salud sin salud emocional) with key information about major mental illnesses. The power of their message comes with sharing personal experiences with mental illness so that others are better able to understand if something is wrong with a friend or loved one and that these behaviors and symptoms are the result of illness and not something a person can control. Once the presenters have created awareness about these conditions, they provide participants with clear and practical guidance on treatment and recovery, and where and how to find help.
Leaders of Sharing Hope and Compartiendo Esperanza programs are emerging across the country to coordinate partnership-building efforts and connect presenter teams to audiences around their communities. Two of them are featured at the NAMI National Convention during a workshop to familiarize other NAMI leaders with these
Linda Gurley, a NAMI veteran of three decades, is attending her first NAMI Convention to present on her experiences with Sharing Hope with NAMI Hampton/ Newport News (Va.) where she also serves as president. Ms. Gurley volunteers in her coordinator role after a long career in nursing and behavioral health fields. She has led one of the most successful sites of this program to date, reaching hundreds of individuals over the past five years of presentations and presence in community events.
Jacqueline Gomez-Arias celebrates her fifth anniversary as a programs and diversity outreach coordinator for NAMI Utah this year. She will share with her NAMI National Convention audience experiential wisdom of promoting community awareness and participation through support, education and advocacy opportunities, particularly within Spanish-speaking communities in the Salt Lake City area. Ms. Gomez-Arias is proudest of her achievements founding an award-winning Latino taskforce, NAMI Latino de Utah.
Look for more great speakers and events happening this week at the NAMI 2013 Convention at www.nami.org/convention.