NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the largest grassroots organization of its kind devoted exclusively to people living with mental illness, and those affected by their loved ones’ illnesses.
It has three goals: to educate ourselves and the general public about what it’s like to live with these no-fault brain disorders; to advocate for more research; and to lobby for an improved mental healthcare system in the U.S.
The NAMI 2007 Convention was held in San Diego, a city that boasts palm tree vistas and an amazing Zoo. The historic Old Town is enchanting, and you can people watch at the Fashion Valley Mall, located in back of the resort.
If you’re ever at the Town & Country, you’re in for a treat: the staff is naturally cheerful, and dedicated to making your stay unforgettable. Betty, the morning waitress at the Trellis Grille, was as sunny as the orange juice.
Let’s talk about the convention. Everybody’s in this together. On Thursday, Friday or Saturday you could attend a NAMI Connection peer support group. A welcome center was the place to meet others and de-stress; and the computer room allowed us to check e-mails or surf the Internet.
On Thursday night, the talent show featured singers, dancers, poets and musicians among attendees who use self-expression as creative therapy. It was lively and everyone had a good time. No tomatoes were thrown! A morning session on Saturday was held on “mental illness and the arts.”
The film Canvas was screened this year, featuring Marcia Gay Harden as a mother with schizophrenia and her relationship with her son. Joe Pantoliano played the husband and father. The love of sailing intermixed with art inspires hope, and the film breaks down stigma by showing the human face of mental illness. Joseph Greco directs. For more info, log on to www.canvasthefilm.com.
On Friday, I attended an “asset ownership for people with disabilities” workshop, which I’ll detail in depth in my next blog entry. After that, I’ll post my take on the “aging and schizophrenia through the lifespan” session. Instead of just a re-hash of what the speakers said, I’ll translate it into real-world observations. Also look for a blog devoted exclusively to NAMI Connection and how it can help you.
On Saturday night, my friend Marshall and I ate dinner at the pool party buffet, where we met NAMI folk from Delaware and Los Angeles. Jazz music played in the background. I was grateful for his company because I didn’t really know anyone else except Robin Cunningham. I recommend you get out and travel to San Diego, if not for the convention, as a tourist.
This year we voted in a new NAMI board of directors. Clarence Jordan won a seat. He is a well-spoken, intelligent and compassionate peer. The other members now include: Clarice Raichel, Kevin Sullivan, Steve Feinstein, and Joseph Mucenski.
To wrap up this 2007 Convention blog entry, I’d like to talk about three of NAMI’s most successful and popular ongoing programs hosted by local affiliates throughout the year:
In Our Own Voice is a presentation led by two peers who are in recovery. The 11-minute video features people living with mental illnesses, all of who have gone on to have successful lives. The presenters stop the tape after each of the five segments, and talk about their own experiences with dark days, acceptance, treatment, coping skills and successes, hopes and dreams. IOOV rounds out with a spirited Q&A, and audience members often linger afterwards to talk individually with the hosts.
Peer-to-Peer is a nine-week experiential education course taught by mentors. It offers anyone who experiences mental illness the opportunity for growth and self-awareness. Each two-hour session uses a combination of lecture, interactive exercises and structured group processes. The diversity of experience among participants allows for a lively dynamic. Two of the most important features of the “recovery toolkit” are the advance directive and the relapse prevention plan. A Spanish version will be available shortly.
Family-to-Family is led by a family member whose loved one suffers from a serious and persistent mental illness. Attendees are, you guessed it, mothers or fathers, or brothers or sisters, or other family members. The 12-week educational course offers practical solutions for interacting with the affected person, geared to sensitivity and conflict resolution. Week ten features people with diagnoses who give insight into what it’s like to experience this devastating trauma firsthand.
For more info, call the toll-free NAMI help line at (800) 950-6264.
With so much offered for everyone at the convention, you’ll come away enlightened, and energized to put the information into real-life use. You’ll meet allies and advocates who bring to the table their experiences and wisdom, and maybe even make a friend.
I hope to see you in Orlando next year!
Published On: June 28, 2007