August 08, 2016

By Amanda Swindle

As soon as I walked into the NAMI National Convention, I knew I was at home with my NAMI community. The room was flooded with proud NAMI members wearing name tags with ribbons attached that identified people as board members, In Our Own Voice presenters, Ending the Silence presenters, staff, and so forth.

After I checked into the hotel the Convention has being held in, I was greeted by a fellow Young Adult Advisory Group member, or as we call ourselves, YAAG. We had all been on countless conference calls, but had not seen each other in person for a year (at the 2015 NAMI Convention in San Francisco). I was finally reunited with my peers. After hugs and greetings, we began discussing what we were most excited for over the next four days. Countless workshops and sessions caught our attention—there were too many amazing topics to choose from!

However, the session we all were looking forward to was the “Bringing Youth and Young Adults to NAMI’s Stigmafree Campaign”, hosted by yours truly: YAAG. At this session, we heard from the amazing Kayley Reed and Kyle MacNevin about their non-profit, Wear Your Label. Kayley and Kyle opened up the dialogue about what it truly means to be Stigmafree and to “wear one’s label.”

From there, we broke into small discussion groups and brainstormed ways for NAMI to engage young people into the Stigmafree campaign and into NAMI’s broader mission. Two ideas from our group included telling your story via videos on YouTube, Vine, or some other social media outlet, and engaging the education system to incorporate mental/emotional/behavioral health development into their physical education/health curriculum. As we came back together, each group had a YAAG representative present their main talking points. I felt the energy in the room rise as extraordinarily passionate and creative young adults shared their ideas and stories.

Overall, my experience at #NAMICon16 was truly transformative because it reassured me why I fight to end injustice faced by individuals and families affected by mental illness. It is easy to lose hope and become jaded by unfortunate circumstances of this world. But that is why opportunities such as NAMI’s Convention reinvigorate and reenergize change-agents, like myself, to persevere and affect positive change.

After the Convention, the YAAG group instantly began brainstorming about different projects we could get started on. My committee area—NAMI on Campus—began brainstorming ideas on how to improve NAMI on Campus throughout the country. Together, we came up with a bunch of ideas that will hopefully invigorate the program.

I highly recommend young adults attend a future NAMI Convention—it will surely provide an inspiration boost through countless opportunities to engage youth and young adults in the mental health movement. #NAMICon16, I love you and thank you for an amazing experience. Until next year!

Amanda Swindle became involved with NAMI as a freshman in undergrad at Christopher Newport University. From there, Amanda's involvement with NAMI blossomed into working with local NAMI affiliates, the NAMI Virginia office and NAMI national. Currently, Amanda sits on two boards: Youth M.O.V.E (Motivating Others Through Voices of Experience) – a program operated through the NAMI Virginia office; and YAAG (Young Adult Advisory Group) – a group of passionate leaders working to engage young adults in the fight against mental health stigma

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