NAMI volunteer Jesse Levine, director Michele Meaker, and volunteer Cole Swanson after their End the Silence presentation. Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo

NAMI volunteer Jesse Levine, director Michele Meaker, and volunteer Cole Swanson after their End the Silence presentation. Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo

NAMI Eastside: Ending the stigma of mental health

NAMI Eastside offers advocacy, education, and support to those affected by mental illness.

Ending the stigma. That is what Jesse Levine and Cole Swanson, volunteers at National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Eastside are trying to do.

On a Wednesday morning, the two volunteers were presenting to a freshmen health class at Redmond High School. The NAMI Eastside presentation they were using was called, Ending the Silence (ETS). The presentation helps students learn about the warning signs of mental health conditions and what to do if loved ones, or they themselves, show symptoms. Both volunteers shared their personal stories and answered student questions.

According to Michele Meaker, NAMI Eastside director, stigma is the biggest barrier that people with mental illness face.

“[People] don’t want to accept that there might be something wrong,” she said. “The more we talk about it, the more it will become accepted, there will be less stigma, and people will be able to seek help.”

According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), one in five adults experiences mental illness each year, one in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year, and one in six youth — ages 6 to 17 — experience a mental health disorder each year. In 2018, it was reported that 43.3 percent of adults and 50.6 percent of youth with mental illness received treatment in 2016.

Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo 
                                Volunteer Jesse Levine, 34, and Cole Swanson, 23, outside of NAMI Eastside in Redmond.

Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo Volunteer Jesse Levine, 34, and Cole Swanson, 23, outside of NAMI Eastside in Redmond.

Sharing

For Swanson, 23, receiving treatment for his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was relieving.

Growing up, Swanson said it was frustrating not knowing what was wrong with him. School was hard, he could’t focus, and it was difficult to do things.

“I felt more of an outsider because I assumed everyone else was fine and I wasn’t,” he said. “I felt distant from everything. It was frustrating because I didn’t know why I couldn’t preform as well as other students.”

Swanson was diagnosed with ADHD at age 22.

“It was nice to know it was confirmed,” Swanson said about his diagnosis. “It was also frustrating because I was hoping I could have found that out before… now I know there’s a reason why I’m feeling what I feel.”

With his recent diagnosis, Swanson said he felt like he had something to say. He wanted to share his experience and help kids realize that who they are is OK.

“Mental health is something that everyone has to work on” he said. “You don’t have to be in a bad place or have a mental health illness, but it’s something that everyone should recognize… people want to stop stigmatizing mental health, and I think its about doing something rather than just talking about it.”

The Issaquah native now lives in Bothell and graduated from Washington State University. Swanson has been volunteering with NAMI since 2018.

NAMI

NAMI Eastside is a grassroots nonprofit organization, a part of the national NAMI organization, and affiliate of NAMI Washington. At NAMI Eastside, their mission is to improve the quality of life of those affected by mental illness through advocacy, education and support.

NAMI Eastside educates Eastside communities by offering a range of mental health education classes and presentations like ETS. Their programs include monthly seminars, quarterly classes, and scheduled presentations in schools, with law enforcement and at in-patient facilities. Classes include a family-to-family, peer-to-peer class, and a wellness recovery action plan. NAMI presentations include In Our Own Voice and ETS, which is presented in various Eastside schools. Seminars include a Mental Health First Aid program and Friends and Family class.

The nonprofit also offers various mental health support groups that offer insight, emotional support and successful strategies for coping with everyday challenges. Support groups include peer support, family support and spirituality support groups. All support groups are free and do not require insurance. They are also held on a drop-in basis with no required length of participation.

Volunteers

All mental health support groups are led by nationally-certified facilitators with lived experience of mental illness. NAMI support groups are held in Redmond, Bellevue, Bothell, Woodinville, Issaquah and Sammmish.

NAMI Eastside trains and educates volunteers like Swanson and Levine. It’s been over 10 years since Levine, 34, received his first training.

“It was probably one of the best moments in my life to be able to accept my illness,” Levine said. “For many years I wasn’t able to accept my illness. [At NAMI], I was able to express how I felt and I was able to be open with people.”

Levine was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in his early 20s. At a young age, Levine said he was diagnosed with ADHD, then with depression and anxiety, and by 18 he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“I wouldn’t change anything about my illness,” he said. “It’s who I am. It’s what I am. I say, ‘I’m Jesse and I’m recovering from schizoaffective disorder.’ It’s an ongoing process and it’s a life-long journey.”

According to Levine, volunteering at NAMI Eastside and receiving training from the organization has empowered him. He said it makes him feel like he is worth something.

“Being able to tell my story is one of the most powerful things that I can do,” he said. “I don’t see this as my disability. I see this as my ability.”

With NAMI Eastside, Levine said his goal is to educate, inform, and share his experience with other people.

“I want to show them that they are not alone and that there is hope,” he said.

Levine currently lives in Redmond with his wife and holds a full-time job.

NAMI-Eastside is located in the Together Center, at 16225 NE 87th St., Suite A-9 in Redmond.

To learn more about NAMI Eastside, go online to www.nami-eastside.org.

To support NAMI Eastside go online to www.givingtuesday.org.

More in Life

Dora Gyarmati. Photo by Nityia Photography
Three simple rules for the holiday

A monthly column about mindfulness.

Redmond Lights will take place Dec. 7 and 8. Photo courtesy of city of Redmond Facebook
Redmond Lights will have new additions this year

The parks and recreation department shared a preview of the festival with city council.

Photo courtesy of Neelam Chahlia 
                                The Redmond City Council recognized Neelam Chahlia’s participation in the Mrs. America contest as Mrs. Washington at its Nov. 19 meeting.
Redmond council recognizes Chalia’s participation in the Mrs. America contest

The Mrs. Washington winner was recognized at the Nov. 19 city council meeting.

Photo courtesy of The Bear Creek School 
                                Bear Creek National Honor Society students from left, Kate McDonough, Chuck McDonough, James Wadhwani, Tyler Doyle, Benjamin Ferreira, Kathryn Sutherland, Ryan Bracewell, Nelson Sun and Annemarie Mullet delivered food donations to the Hopelink food bank in Redmond.
Bear Creek food drive brings in six and a half tons of food

The school’s National Honor Society chapter organized the drive and the food was donate to Hopelink.

For veterans, there’s no better cause to push than helping other vets

Jim Curtis and Mark Gorman are two of many veteran advocates on the Eastside.

Fairwinds-Redmond to honor veterans

WWII veterans Morten Joslin and Nick Nichols share their stories.

Alejandro, 6, and Elizabeth, 8, Camacho from Woodinville with their sugar skulls at the Día de los Muertos event on Nov. 2 at the Centro Cultural Mexicano in Redmond. Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo
Redmond celebrates Día de los Muertos

The Day of the Dead event celebrates the lives of departed loved ones.

From left: National Merit Scholarship semifinalists Rita Luk, Lauren Shen, Nelson Sun and commended students Andrew Hom and Matthew Jensen. Courtesy photo of Bear Creek School
Three Bear Creek School students named National Merit semifinalists

Two more students were recognized as national commended students.

The team that created Vitality, the first-prize winning app. Courtesy photo
DelBene hosts annual app-a-thon for local students

Students from Redmond place in competition.

Staying fit through the holidays

It is possible to train yourself to exercise as part of who you are.

In 1967 Nokomis Club of Redmond sponsored a tea at the local branch of the King County Library system to commemorate National Library Week. Photo courtesy of Redmond Historical Society Facebook
110 years of community investment

The Nokomis club celebrates their 110th Anniversary.

Queen Latifah headlines Hopelink’s Reaching Out luncheon Oct. 21. From left: Queen Latifah, luncheon chairs Lynne Varner and Paul Hollie, and Hopelink CEO Lauren Thomas. Madison Miller/staff photo
Queen Latifah headlines Hopelink’s annual fundraiser

Hopelink raised about $1.15 million at the annual fundraiser.