Community

NAMI Eastside seeks NAMIWalks participants and volunteers; agency offers free mental health support

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Eastside board member Paul Beatty (left) and board president Mike Rynas are seeking participants for the 2010 NAMIWalks-Washington event in Seattle on May 15 and computer-savvy volunteers for the NAMI Eastside office in Redmond
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Eastside board member Paul Beatty (left) and board president Mike Rynas are seeking participants for the 2010 NAMIWalks-Washington event in Seattle on May 15 and computer-savvy volunteers for the NAMI Eastside office in Redmond's Family Resource Center.
— image credit: MARY STEVENS DECKER, Redmond Reporter

Each year, the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Eastside office at Redmond's Family Resource Center responds to approximately 4,000 walk-in visits, phone calls or e-mails from individuals and families affected by mental illness.

Yet for each person or family actively seeking information about mental illness or support groups, many more suffer in silence. Some just don't know where to go for help. Others keep their struggles to themselves because of common misconceptions and prejudices against people with mental health disorders.

About 400 NAMI Eastside board members, volunteers and supporters will participate in the 2010 NAMIWalks-Washington event on Saturday, May 15 in Seattle's Magnuson Park. Joined by NAMI affiliates from Seattle, Spokane, Yakima and elsewhere, their goal will be to raise $150,000 for NAMI programs statewide.

"NAMI is the largest education, support and advocacy organization that serves the needs of all those whose lives are touched by brain diseases," said Paul Beatty, NAMI Eastside board member.

"This includes persons with mental illness, their families, friends, employers, the law enforcement community and policy makers," said Beatty. "NAMI does the work of no other agency. No one is charged for the services of NAMI and no one is turned away."

As well as raising money for NAMI, the NAMIWalks-Washington event strives to raise awareness of the prevalence of mental illness, to fight the stigma "and bring out the fact that our mental health system needs an overhaul," Beatty stated.

A handout from NAMI Eastside points out, "Mental illness is not a choice. Mental illnesses are physical brain disorders that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, moods and ability to relate to others. One in four families is affected by a severe mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or major depression. Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease. Mental illnesses are treatable just like any other illness."

NAMI Eastside holds monthly forums on mental health topics at Evergreen Hospital and Bellevue College, as well as classes and support groups at the NAMI Eastside office and other locations in Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland, Issaquah and Bothell. A Spanish-speaking support group is available. All programs and classes are free and open to the public.

But in addition to offering these organized events, NAMI Eastside staff and volunteers often are like a candle in the dark for individuals or families in unexpected, terrifying and life-threatening situations.

"Think of the family whose little 14-year-old daughter goes on Facebook, threatening suicide," said NAMI Eastside board president Mike Rynas. "We advocate for folks who don't know where to turn or are embarrassed."

Rynas described other calls to the NAMI Eastside office. "Kids are kicked out of school for odd behavior," he explained. In one recent case, a teenage boy was standing next to a school's flagpole in the pouring rain, despondent, head down. A police officer picked him up, not quite sure what to do with him. Mental illness isn't always recognized or understood, Rynas said.

"Someone takes a child (with mental illness) to the hospital four times — no one pays attention," Rynas continued. "We advocate for them. Kids with heart disease would be seen right away."

Beatty has spoken to many police department panels, because people with untreated mental illness often end up in the criminal justice system.

"Some police have been around a long time, but have never heard of NAMI," said Beatty. "We give our cards to them and let them know that we can be a resource."

Rynas agreed, "If we can cut the time between the crisis occurring and getting that family support, that is what we try to do."

Anyone in the community is welcome to join the NAMI Eastside contingent at the NAMIWalks-Washington event. For information or to make a donation, visit www.nami.org/NAMIWalks10/SEA/namieastside.

Volunteers, especially those with computer skills and/or Web design experience, are also needed at the NAMI Eastside office, 16315 NE 87th St., Suite B-4 in Redmond. For information, call (425) 885-6264 or e-mail info@nami-eastside.org.

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