COVID-19 has brought mental health to the forefront in our society and it’s not a moment too soon for supporters of NAMI Southern Arizona.
“It’s about time that it is a topic of conversation. It took a pandemic for people to pay attention to mental health, which is rather sad. One in three U.S. adults reported experiencing depression or anxiety since the pandemic began and now that so many are affected, they start to understand the issues facing people who have always been affected. Hopefully we are at a turning point and will get more support and funding for mental health so that we will be able to help more people,” said Christina Bickelmann, executive director of NAMI Southern Arizona.
More than 296 participants and 46 teams will participate in NAMIWalks Your Way Southern Arizona — the second consecutive virtual walk — to garner funds for the nonprofit.
The Southern Arizona chapter, which was established in 1983 as the sixth affiliate nationwide the National Alliance on Mental Illness, hopes to raise at least $150,000 during the virtual event Saturday, April 10. Register at www.namiwalks.org/southernarizona.
The money raised at the annual event accounts for about one-third of the organization’s annual budget, according to Bickelmann.
“This is a large part of how we pay for things since we don’t charge for anything: We are unique in the sense that we provide things that no one else does at no cost. All of our education and services and support groups are no-cost for participants, but we have associated costs we need to cover such as materials, training and technology,” said Bickelmann.
Technology has been particularly important since NAMI services went completely remote after the onset of the pandemic last March, offering support and education services virtually along with telephone advocacy through the office at 622-5582.
Zoom offerings include Peer-to-Peer, a course for people with mental health conditions led by peers; Family-to-Family, in which family members provide tools to the loved ones of those affected by mental illness; and speaker programs such as Ending the Silence, which offers presentations for middle school and high school students taught by a trained team that includes a young adult living in recovery with a diagnosable mental health condition. NAMI has facilitated more than 100 presentations of Ending the Silence since October.
“The presenters talk about how they presented with mental illness and how they are doing now. That has been really popular since many kids are really suffering and feeling isolated due to being unable to be in school and to participate in normal activities,” said Bickelmann.
Bickelmann said NAMI programs also offer unique opportunities for those living with mental health conditions to work, engage with others and give back.
“Most of the people who work with NAMI have a mental illness or have a family member who has a mental illness. You need to be able to know what people are going through and be able to provide insight on how you came through it to help other people,” she said.
Ardith Powell is among those who offer insight and support to NAMI.
Powell, 74, is a mental health advocate who has raised more than $28,000 through NAMIWalks since 2007; this year alone she has raised more than $4,200 to date.
Powell, who became suicidal at age 12 and is designated as severely mentally ill, said NAMI helped her to realize that she was not alone and that there were many others fighting battles with mental illness.
“People who know me can’t believe what I have done and accomplished with the severity of my mental illness. I can’t believe that I am still alive, and the whole reason is the work that NAMI does,” she said.
As a poet, Powell has often expressed her feelings through writing.
“I was drawn to NAMI for their support, understanding and compassion and they helped me to find my worth and purpose, a search a long-time sought. Now my mental illness is mostly history and my normalcy act has become a fact,” she wrote in a poem entitled, “Why I Care About NAMI.”
Powell hopes that sharing her enthusiasm — and poems such as “Reality is Talking” (see box) that she composes annually for the NAMIWalk — will touch others and encourage them to donate to a team or participate as an individual in the upcoming event.
Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at email@example.com