Why Olympians Need to Talk About Mental Health

The Olympic Games are an event many look forward to; watching the unbelievable skills demonstrated during each competition is thrilling and commands much respect for those competing. These extraordinary athletes have dedicated their lives to training their bodies and minds in order to be the best of the best at their sport. Some call them real-life heroes, the role models that represent their countries.

One can only imagine the grueling days of training and resistance against oneself that accompany the fame and glory of success at the Games. Olympic athletes require immense physical strength and even more mental strength and stability to challenge not only their competitors, but themselves. Such an intense career likely makes it extremely difficult for athletes to handle the stress and pressure of needing to succeed, which can lead to mental illness or general lack of mental wellness. About 1 in 5 people are living with mental illness, therefore 1 in 5 Olympians are living with a mental illness as well. But if mental illness is so common, why don’t more of them talk about it? With mental stamina so crucial to this career, why is the conversation about mental health among Olympic athletes so minimal?

The answer may simply be the stigma that surrounds mental illness. The exact opposite of what athletes want is to be viewed as “weak” or “incapable”. Our society often labels those with mental illness this way, viewing the illness before the person and giving it the power. Even for the Olympians that do not live with mental illness but have struggled with remaining mentally strong, they may fear that talking about it will cause their competitors and the public to view them differently, negatively.

Yet, this is the exact time when it is perfect to talk about mental health: if the physically and mentally strongest people on earth struggle with their mental health but are willing to speak up about it, others can know that people do not experience mental health conditions because they are weak and have lack of character. Rather, our circumstances or body chemistry make mental wellness extra challenging, which makes talking about self-care and forms of mental wellness even more important. We may not all be Olympic athletes, but we all experience stress, loss, and demands in life. When Olympians open up about their struggles and discuss ways to combat them, we all benefit by fighting the stigma against mental illness and by learning ways to care for ourselves.

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications & Advocacy Intern

**Adapted from NAMI National’s Blog “Why Don’t More Olympians Talk About Mental Illness?”

Statement on Parkland School Shooting

NAMI Wisconsin is deeply saddened by the tragic school shooting that occurred Wednesday in Parkland, Florida. These tragedies impact our communities - our parents, our children, our school professionals, our first responders - the mental health of our whole country.

The details are still unfolding and there are still unanswered questions, but what we do know is that there were warning signs and that the shooter had received mental health treatment. As we continue the national discussion about what we can do to prevent further tragedies, we need to be willing to engage in an honest conversation about what allowed this young man to fall through the cracks, and the broader personal and societal factors that may have fueled his actions.  

It is paramount for us to ensure the safety and well-being of our children and youth, and to remember that 1 in 5 people, potentially hundreds of students in a high school, have or will experience a mental illness.  We need to be very careful that the response to these tragedies by the media and others does not discourage students from seeking help.  

Where do we go from here? 
There are steps we can take now to educate and intervene early to break down barriers of understanding, and put an end to the stigma that often prevents people from getting the help they so desperately need. NAMI Wisconsin advocates can take action by contacting their members of Congress, state and local leaders and asking them to: 

  1. Increase mental health awareness and availability of counselors in schools.Students should be encouraged to seek help for themselves or a friend. School based mental health has also proven extremely effective in engaging students who would not otherwise seek help. Some states have made significant investments in school based mental health and more needs to be done.
  2. Train school staff, administrators, parents and youth, and provide the tools necessary to have conversations about the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions and where they can turn to for help. Far too often, when families are most in need, there isn't a clear pathway to getting help.
  3. Develop a comprehensive response program for youth who have demonstrated behavioral issues including involving family and mental health providers. Take steps to avoid expelling and suspending students as this only exacerbates the situation. 
  4. Increase the ability of the mental health system to be proactive in reaching out to youth, particularly those with the most serious conditions. Young people in distress will not seek help so there needs to be mobile outreach responses that are funded and easily available. This requires sustained and expanded funding for coverage for mental health, not cuts. 

Speak Up About Gun Violence! 
Another part of the conversation that cannot be ignored is acting on common sense approaches to ending gun violence such as gun violence prevention restraining orders, which can allow for the removal of guns from people who may pose a risk of violence to themselves and others. While the relationship between mental illness and gun violence is very low, we need reasonable options, including making it possible for law enforcement to act on credible community and family concerns in circumstances where people are at high-risk.

We all want an end to these horrific acts of violence. To achieve this, we need to understand the full picture of what is really driving increased violence and take sensible steps. Only then can we find meaningful solutions to protecting our children and communities.

If you are seeking additional support after the Parkland School Shooting, please don't hesitate to contact the NAMI Wisconsin office at (608) 268-6000 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. 

Rethinking What Matters: Focusing on Positivity

Even though there are countless things to be thankful for, it can be easy to focus on the negative aspects of life and what goes wrong over the blessings. Irritants and problems seem to blare in our faces and bring down our moods, while the positives fade into the background.

However, much of this life-view is a mindset. Granted, mental illness can make positive thoughts and mindset very difficult, but a key step to recovery includes focusing on what we are thankful for and trying to find the good amongst the bad. Numerous studies have shown that those who keep a gratitude diary or a positivity journal experience, overall, less depressive symptoms and perceived stress than those who do not.

One way to begin opposing negative thoughts is to write them down and to challenge yourself to find a positive counter-thought to change it. Expressing gratitude and brainstorming potential solutions (if there is a problem/issue) are good ways to find positivity. An example could be: Negative- I am so busy at work! I never have enough time to get everything done and am always bogged down! Positive- I am thankful to have a job and a way to earn income. I will make myself a schedule to organize my time and plan my responsibilities.

Of course, it may not always be possible to find a positive alternative to a negative, such as if a loved one passes away suddenly or there are unescapable financial burdens. But these are the times when, though we may not see a positive outcome at the time, we grow and become stronger through our struggle. It may be very uncomfortable, sometimes even painful, to grow and persist through these hard times, but positives develop from them, even if the only positive is that we showed ourselves that we could make it through.

So today, set aside some time to challenge the negatives in your life. You may surprise yourself with how encouraged it makes you feel!

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications & Advocacy Intern

Loving and Supporting a Significant Other with Mental Illness

Here we are in the month of February, a.k.a. the month of love!

Couples devote extra time and attention to each other through giving gifts, going out somewhere special, and spending quality time with one another, particularly on Valentine’s Day. However, having a partner with a mental illness, or being that partner, requires love in a way that can look very different from chocolates and teddy bears on one set day.   

As an individual living with depression and a form of OCD called trichotillomania, I know what it’s like to have really hard mental health days. There are times when I can’t get out of bed because my dark thoughts pull me to it and don’t let me leave, or times when I pull out all of my eyelashes and my self-esteem plummets, often also leading to dark thoughts. Times like these can be insufferable, but with support from my significant other, by and large, they are made bearable.

For someone with mental illness, love and support can mean simply sitting next to them in silence, or laying with them in bed during a hard time. It can be making them food if you know they are struggling to eat regularly on their own, or making sure they are brushing their teeth and showering. It can also be a quiet “I love you,” “you’re amazing!” or “I’m proud of you”. On harder days, it can be holding them while they weep or break down in panic. Love and support can also be everyday care, like making them lunch or taking care of some of their errands.

Yet, even when my partner makes it clear through his words and actions that he cares about me, my mental illness makes me worry that one day, he’s going to realize that me and my conditions are too much to handle, or that he’s giving more than he is getting, and decide to leave me. My thoughts tell me that I am not “normal,” my brain is not “normal,” so I am constantly questioning whether my partner deserves someone who doesn’t require so much “work”.

But I have to remind myself that although my mental illness requires certain care and treatment, it does not define me. I am still worthy of love. I am a kind, loving, goofy person who is able to show extra compassion and grace to my partner when he’s having a bad day, because I know what it’s like to really be low. I take extreme care to know he’s loved and that I am there for him, because I know he is always there for me. Relationships are a two-way street, and mental illness does not put a road block in one or both lanes- just be sure to continue reaching over to the other side.

If you are seeking additional support, please do not hesitate to reach out to the NAMI Wisconsin at (608) 268-6000. 

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications & Advocacy Intern

Everyday Ways to Talk about Mental Health

Living with a mental health condition can present many challenges, such as scheduling and attending appointments with psychiatrists and therapists, getting the right medication, and facing the everyday difficulties of one’s affected thinking, mood, or behavior. Talking about your life with a mental illness with others can be an additional, entirely new challenge in itself. You may be worried that others will think less of you for having a mental illness, or that you will lose friends and family due to your condition being a burden. These are valid concerns, but it is important to remember that talking about your mental health provides an opportunity for others to care for you and provide support. It also helps inform others and break down stigmas that surround mental illness.

Here are some everyday ways to talk about your mental health, helping to change the stigmas that may surround what it means to have a mental illness:

  • If someone asks why you missed an event, be honest and tell them it was because of a therapy appointment, that you decided to stay home to take care of yourself instead, or that you did not feel mentally healthy enough to attend at that time. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but many people have likely been in similar situations but were too afraid of what others would think if they told the truth about their mental health. There is nothing to be ashamed of in having a mental health condition or in seeking care!
  • Our society tends to idolize the concept of “always being busy”. This can be difficult to look past, but telling others that you schedule time in your week to do nothing but relax and watch Netflix at home can be a great way to talk about mental health! Knowing that you need downtime because it helps prevent episodes of depression, anxiety, or OCD, etc. is a strength, not a weakness. You are taking time to care for yourself, and it is good for others to know that. Oftentimes, when someone else is open about allowing themselves time to relax, others feel that it’s okay for them to do the same.
  • Whether you are a high school or college student or a full-time employee, try to be open about your mental health and its state of wellness with your teachers or boss. These are the people you need to talk to about missing class or work for mental health related reasons, so it is best that they know you aren’t “skipping out” on your responsibilities, but rather, caring for yourself. This may mean notifying them that you need to stay home for a mental health day, or that you may need an extension on a project due to a challenging time with your illness. Not only will they be able to trust your integrity, but the people in these authority positions can often provide resources for assistance when dealing with a condition.

If you are seeking additional support, please do not hesitate to reach out to the NAMI Wisconsin at (608) 268-6000. 

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications & Advocacy Intern

Gratitude for Your Mental Health

Happy Thanksgiving! This holiday is the perfect reason for all of us to stop our busy lives and celebrate what we are most thankful for.

Truth be told, Thanksgiving is a great reminder that we should practice gratitude every day. Although gratitude is most commonly emphasized during the holiday season, research continually shows us that cultivating gratitude on a daily basis can contribute to overall psychological well-being.  

Gratitude is known to reduce many toxic emotions from your body, such as anger, jealousy, frustration, and regret. While eliminating these toxic feelings, gratitude highlights your positive emotions, like happiness, joy, and serenity.

In addition to these positive emotions, grateful people generally are likely to show more kindness to people around them. According to a 2012 study conducted by the University of Kentucky, individuals who express gratitude are less likely to seek ‘revenge’ against others.

Expressing gratitude not only helps with positive mental health, but also contributes to physical health. Individuals who frequently express gratitude are more likely to take care of their bodies through exercise and healthy eating. The same individual often find lower blood pressure and cholesterol, demonstrating the effects of positive psychology.

Some ways in which gratitude can contribute to positive mental health include: healthier relationships, increased levels of self-confidence, improved sleep patterns, a stronger sense of empathy & forgiveness, and a stronger determination for hope & recovery.

In the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, it’s hard to set time aside to practice gratitude each day. We recommend scheduling some of these practices into your daily schedule:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal
  2. Take notice of the little things in life
  3. Write thank you letters
  4. Focus on the positive
  5. Embrace your emotions
  6. Volunteer in your community
  7. Take a walk and focus on the things you are thankful for
  8. Thank the important people in your life
  9. Think of memories you are thankful for
  10. Say thank you, always.

During this holiday season, we challenge you to continue your gratitude through the rest of the coming year. Your body and mind will thank you!

From all of us at NAMI Wisconsin, we wish you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Written by Jamie Gurgul, Communications & Events Director

Advocating During Mental Illness Awareness Week

Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition. 

During the first full week of October, NAMI and participants across the country are raising awareness of mental illness. Each year, we fight stigma, provide support, educate the public, and advocate for equal care. Each year, the movement continues to grow stronger. 

We believe that mental health issues are important to address year-round, but highlighting them during #MIAW provides a time for people to come together and display the passion and strength of those working to improve the lives of the tens of millions of Americans affected by mental illness. 

Here are ten ways you can get involved and show your support during Mental Illness Awareness Week: 

  1. Connect with your local affiliate. Find out if they are hosting a community event in honor of MIAW and ask how you can get involved. You can find your closest NAMI affiliate here
  2. Call your state representatives. Let them know it’s Mental Illness Awareness Week. Ask them what they’re doing to in the legislature to promote a better mental health system in Wisconsin. Be sure to thank them for their efforts. You can find out who represents you by typing your address here.  
  3. Host a community forum. Invite community leaders such as teachers, elected officials and faith leaders to partake in a mental health forum hosted at your local community center. One of the best ways to spread awareness is through one-on-one experiences. 
  4. Wear lime green. Be bold. Grab attention and send a message without saying a word. Show your support by wearing lime green, the official color representative of mental illness. You can find NAMI gear at the NAMI Store
  5. Post on social media. Whether you Tweet or Facebook, social media connects thousands of people to your cause. Let people know that the first week of October is Mental Illness Awareness Week by using #FutureOfMentalHealth.
  6. Share your story. Sharing your story and creating safe spaces for others to do the same is one of the most effective ways to eliminate stigma. 
  7. Start a dialogue. Ask your local affiliate about NAMI Wisconsin’s Whiteboard Project, an opportunity for the community to share why mental health matters to them. 
  8. Volunteer your time. NAMI affiliates are the heart and soul of our organization…and many are volunteers! Find a way to connect your skill set with a need at your local affiliate. 
  9. Educate. Politely raise mental health issues with elected officials, local leaders, teachers and colleagues. Find the facts here
  10. Be present. One of the best gifts you can give a person is a listening ear. Let a loved one who is going through a hard time know you are there for them. 

Also-- don't forget to participate in NAMI Wisconsin's Whiteboard Project! By simple posting a selfie on your social media feeds, you can create dialogue and end stigma surrounding mental illness. Click here to learn more about the Whiteboard Project. 

Community Involvement: Building Blocks for the Next Generation

NAMI Wisconsin is gearing up for our first ever young professional’s event, Advocates of Tomorrow. The event will take place on Thursday, October 26th in Madison, WI and will bring together a diverse group of individuals interested in adding their voice to the nonprofit sector. This free event will provide attendees with information about how to get involved with NAMI Wisconsin and many other nonprofit organizations. With the spirit of youth in mind, we’ve compiled the top five reasons to start early building a foundation for community involvement.

1. Skill Building
Community involvement allows youth to gain valuable, hands on skills that they may not get the opportunity to explore within a classroom setting. Working collaboratively as a group or independently on a specified task helps to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. Community involvement may also offer opportunities for public speaking, writing, networking, mock interviewing and expanding one’s knowledge of technology.

2. Resume Building
These skills can be transferable to a resume when the time comes to enter the workforce. Today’s job market is competitive and finding paid employment can be especially challenging for youth who have no prior experience. Skills obtained from working closely on a project in the community are not only desired by employers, but highly sought out. An added bonus is being able to use a former boss or team leader as a reference in an interview.

3. Building Life Skills
Whether one is giving their time to a cause or helping out during an event or specific project, there is the opportunity for success and failure. It is in these experiences that youth develop resiliency, patience, work ethic, responsibility and the gratification of a job well done, just to name a few. Development of life skills at a young age helps to create a strong foundation for greater hurdles ahead, both in professional and personal relationships. 

4. Relationship Building
Getting involved in one’s community not only allows young professionals to connect with one another, but also people of all different ages and backgrounds. Just as young professionals learn from their elders, folks with years of experience working in the community have the opportunity to gain fresh perspectives and new ideas from younger generations.

5. Building a Sense of Belonging
The most valuable asset that can be gained from community involvement is the sense of belonging. The ability to say “I’m a part of something. I have a purpose. I make a difference” is simply irreplaceable.

For more information about the Advocates of Tomorrow event, please click here. You can also find us on Facebook or contact Jamie Gurgul, the Communications & Events Director at: 608-268-6000 or jamie@namiwisconsin.org.

Written by Crystal Hester, NAMI Wisconsin's Public Policy & Advocacy Director

The Torch in the Tunnel: How Peer Resources Can Empower

We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.
— Whoopi Goldberg

Being part of the peer led movement to advocate for mental health services has given me valuable insight and vision on the path to my own recovery. At times this path has seemed rather dark and unlit; both in a figurative sense when, for example, depression has made my world seem distant and hard to identify with and in a literal sense when needed, quality healthcare was out of reach and difficult to find in my locale. 

These conditions were frustrating to say the least and also contributed towards my desire to somehow escape from my mental health disorder and history of trauma. For some time, I had been striving to remove what had become a core piece of my identity; one that was defined by my disorders and traumatic experiences. This dance with stigma and this process of trying to remove socially constructed labels are experiences that can be especially pronounced for those with lived experience and traumatic histories and can further hinder access to healthcare for those in need.

Today I consider myself doing well in recovery and this path is not so dark. I still experience some of the symptoms associated with my diagnoses, but I am more stable and independent of medication than I have been since experiencing the major traumas in my life. Along with a series of fortunate events and circumstances following my misfortunes, I have been able to gather a solid set of recovery supports through connection with friends and peers. 

Among these supports, the most valuable have proven to be knowing when and how to take care of myself, remaining engaged in the advocacy movement for quality mental health care, and being in a supportive community of peers and allies to those with mental health and substance use disorders. I have found this latter support to be especially available through NAMI Wisconsin’s Consumer Council (NWCC) and Policy and Advocacy Committee as well as the Recovery Implementation Task Force. Being part of these peer- and advocate-led environments where I can express myself, talk about my lived experience, and seek advice and support has helped me define myself on my own terms and not the ones associated with stigma and society’s negative labels. Moreover, these supports have served as the “little torches” to light my path when it gets dark, helping me to see with clarity the support around me. They have provided me with a vehicle to transform my lived experience intoa story of empowerment through directed advocacy efforts and a means to stay engaged while, at the same time, allowing me to remain connected and aware of what I have been through and I am up against. 

When I think back to some of my more dark days, it would have been difficult for me to imagine that I would someday be both proud to be defined by my trauma and my mental health condition and that I could be involved in efforts that could make a difference and improve care for others with similar experiences and diagnoses. Though, through my experiences I have come to understand that even if things do get dark again, there is light at the end of the tunnel and that there are others along the way to throw the torches to light the way.

So with that said I present a challenge to you to those doing well in recovery and looking for an active and supportive peer environment: consider joining the NWCC. If you would like to enhance the quality of life for people affected by mental illness and are driven by unity, self-determination, empowerment, and inclusion then the NWCC may be right for you. We work together to provide opportunities to develop our skills as a leaders by enhancing NAMI Wisconsin's efforts toward supporting recovery and creating meaningful opportunities for participation for all NAMI Wisconsin consumers and by providing meaningful input to NAMI Wisconsin by serving on an advisory committee to the Board of Directors.

If you would like learn more about the NWCC and it’s activities, please reach out to the NWCC Chair, Chris Keenan at cbkeenan44@gmail.com or NAMI Wisconsin’s Executive Director, Nate Schorr at 608-268-6000.

Written by Chris Keenan, NAMI Wisconsin's NWCC Chair and Board Member

Back to School: A Time to Focus on Youth Mental Health

It’s already August?! For parents and youth, August means a time to prep for back to school festivities, such as buying supplies, registering for classes, and joining new extracurricular activities. Going back to school after a long summer break can be extremely overwhelming for many students. The idea of having a new schedule, with new subjects and new classmates can seem like a lot all at once.

During this time of intense transition, it is crucial that parents can identify potential signs of mental illness in their children. Research shows that 1 in 5 youth ages 14-24 years-old are living with a serious mental illness. Unfortunately, the average delay between onset of symptoms and intervention is still about 8-10 years.

Over 50% of students living with mental illness dropout of high school. This is often due to the fact that they were not supported with proper treatment and medications when they needed it most. As with any health condition, it’s so important that parents can identify symptoms and behaviors that might often be connected to a mental illness before it gets to this point.

Some warning signs might include:

  • Feeling very sad of withdrawn for more than 2 weeks (e.g. crying regularly, feeling fatigued, feeling unmotivated)
  • Trying to harm or kill oneself or making plans to do so

  • Out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors that can cause harm to self or others

  • Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart, physical discomfort, or fast breathing

  • Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or gain.

  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships

  • Substance use

  • Drastic changes in behavior, personality, or sleeping habits

  • Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still that can lead to failure in school

  • Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities like hanging out with friends or going to classes.

If your child is experiencing these symptom, please remember that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Be sure to talk to your pediatrician, get a referral to a mental health specialist, work with your child’s school, connect with other families, and reach out to your local NAMI. Many NAMI affiliates offer a variety of programs that can be helpful to you and your family during this stressful time.

If you would like to bring mental health awareness to a school near you, we recommend that you learn about Raise Your Voice. This is a NAMI Wisconsin club that is dedicated to increasing mental illness awareness, inspiring advocacy, and promoting acceptance. To learn more about how to get involved in this initiative, please click here.

Written by Jamie Gurgul, NAMI Wisconsin's Communications & Events Director

Experts By Experience: NAMI Provider

This fall, NAMI Wisconsin is excited to bringing the NAMI Provider program back to Wisconsin!

Wisconsin was one of the early roll-out states of the Provider Education Program when it was originally developed. Dr. Joyce Burland, PhD, the author of NAMI’s evidence-based Family-to-Family education program developed the Provider program to bring the ‘experience of mental illness’ to health providers. Dr. Burland, a psychologist, and a parent and sister of an individual living with schizophrenia, developed and authored the course.  

The magic of NAMI is the depth of knowledge and understanding that all our trainers at every level (national, state and local) bring to the training experience from the perspective of lived experience. Teaching the NAMI Provider Program puts us in the role of “experts of our own experience”.  As a mental health professional and a person living well in Recovery I am passionate about this program.  The 3-5 person teaching team consists of 1-2 family members, 1-2 individuals living well in Recovery and a mental health professional who is a family member or living well in Recovery.  

NAMI Provider is a unique program in that at the time that it was developed all NAMI’s education programs were focused on the individuals that we serve, persons living with mental health conditions and their family members.  We were, for lack of better terminology, teaching “our own folks”.  NAMI Provider took our peer approach a step further.  NAMI Provider is taught to people who may or may not have lived experience with mental illness, but have a role in providing services to individuals with mental health conditions and their families.  The mental health professional role on the teaching team is a peer to the providers taking the course, they also share a common lived experience, that of provider.  The NAMI Provider program honors the role of the provider by having a peer representative on the teaching team. This also offers the participants the opportunity to see mental health conditions from all three perspectives (families, individuals with mental health conditions and providers) as each course topic is covered. There is no role on the teaching that is more valued than another and the team works together as experts in their own experience, sharing their own stories and raising awareness.  During the 5 sessions, which can be done in a variety of formats, healthcare staff are:  introduced to the emotional stages people affected by mental illness experience on the journey to recovery, gain an understanding of ,and empathy for, the individuals lived experience during treatment and encouraged to promote collaboration between individuals, families and providers to achieve the best level of recovery possible.

NAMI Provider is typically attended by: therapists/counselors, Social Workers, Nurses, Direct Care Workers, Psychologists and Administrative Staff who have direct contact with people affected by mental illness (in person or by telephone).  The program has also been offered to other professional groups who work with those affected by mental illness such as:  Law Enforcement personnel, Judges and Court staff, District Attorneys and office staff and Clergy.

The program is presented in 5 sessions organized into short lectures, discussions and group exercises.  The 5 sessions are 2.5 hours in length and can presented one session per week for five weeks or one session per day for five days or all 5 sessions in a two-day period (two or three per day).

The training for NAMI Provider Teachers is an intensive 2-day training, typically offered on a weekend.  If you are an “expert” in your own experience and are ready to share your story with mental health service providers, NAMI Provider may be the program for you.  Contact your local NAMI affiliate or NAMI Wisconsin for more information about NAMI Provider.

Written by: Luann Simpson, MSW, CPS, NAMI Provider State Trainer

Art as a Powerful Healing Tool

Even though this had to be in my life, I have used art in many forms and chose this to be my coping skills to get away and be me. Art is something I have always had as a skill and it will never be taken from me. Bipolar may live within me, but art will always heal me
— Angela McCormick, 2016 Healing Art Show Artist

When facing a mental illness diagnosis, a million thoughts and feelings flood the mind. It is often hard to conceptualize those thoughts or slow down to describe these feelings to others..

This is when art comes in.

Art is one of many tools used in recovery from mental illness. For many individuals living with a mental health condition, art is an incredibly effective way to connect with built-up emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. This can be accomplished through painting, drawing, sculpting, writing, music, and much more.  Art requires active participation in treatment and recovery from the artist.

Time and time again, research continually shows that art therapy can be effective in:

  • Empowering and providing self-discovery

  • Increasing motivation for recovery

  • Relaxing and providing stress-relief

  • Teaching proper coping skills

  • Facilitating insight and empathy

  • Promoting problem-solving skills

  • Relieving symptoms

For the eleventh year in a row, NAMI Wisconsin will celebrate the power of art through this year’s Healing Art Show. This is an exhibit of 40+ artists from around the state of Wisconsin who also live with a mental health condition.

No artwork displayed during the Healing Art Show looks the same. Just like the artist, each piece has a unique background and story to share with the world.

Not only does the Healing Art Show aim to celebrate the talented participating artists, but through artistic expression brings awareness to the surrounding community, reducing stigma surrounding mental illness. The exhibit provides an opportunity to spotlight the creative strengths of each artist, which far overshadow any shame or stereotypes that one might associate to mental illness. This year’s exhibit is graciously hosted by Lakeside St. Coffee House in Madison, Wisconsin.

If you would like to share your story through your art at this year’s 11th Annual Healing Art Show, NAMI Wisconsin urges you to apply! Applications are now being accepted until Thursday, August 24th, 2017. We accept any medium of art, whether it be paintings, sculptures, and even written work.

For more information on the Healing Art Show, click here to learn more or email NAMI Wisconsin’s Communications & Events Director, Jamie Gurgul, at jamie@namiwisconsin.org

Written by Jamie Gurgul, NAMI Wisconsin's Communications & Events Director

Mental Illness Doesn't Discriminate by Political Party

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

 -John F. Kennedy

Whether you follow the news closely or prefer to passively catch headlines here and there, it’s hard to escape the sense of combativeness and divisiveness that comes with today’s political coverage. Issues are often framed in a republican vs. democrat, right vs. left, or conservative vs liberal context, and each outcome comes with a winner and a loser. One of the many beautiful things about being a part of NAMI is that, as a nonpartisan organization, our work can cut through the confusion of “us vs. them” and focus instead on an issue that doesn’t discriminate by political party.

When I came to NAMI, I had my own curiosities about what it meant when my coworkers mentioned being “nonpartisan” in our efforts. I expected it to mean that, while we may not publicly support a certain political party, mental health care was probably either a liberal or conservative cause, and that we worked primarily with whatever side it happened to land on. After walking five feet into the NAMI Wisconsin building on my first day, however, that preconception was completely shattered. When you step foot into our building, two of the most prominent fixtures that draw your attention are a declaration letter penned by Republican Governor, Scott Walker, as well as a similar letter of support written by Democratic Senator, Tammy Baldwin. You’d be hard pressed to find a picture of these two political figures standing side by side stumping for a common cause, yet here they are, hanging in our entry way, expressing their official written support for NAMI. While it may seem like a simple decorative coincidence, to me it speaks volumes about the pervasiveness of our organization’s mission. The footprint of mental illness is not only deeply personal, but also spreads wide throughout our communities.

Mental illness doesn’t care if you live in a red state or a blue state. Mental illness doesn’t care if you voted republican or democrat in the last election. Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income, and NAMI’s mission is to improve the quality of life of people for all of those that feel its effects. This message rings loudly across the political aisle, and with your help, we can continue to make our mission a reality. If you care about NAMI and what it stands for, please do not hesitate to make your voice heard. NAMI’s ability to affect change lies not in the lap of one political party, but instead in the hands of thousands of people who care about mental health care and want to make a difference.

To learn more about how to get involved with NAMI Wisconsin's advocacy efforts, please click here

Written by: Nate Schorr, Executive Director of NAMI Wisconsin

Recap: NAMI Convention 2017

At the end of June, I had the privilege to travel to the beautiful city of Washington D.C. for the NAMI Convention 2017. As a first time attendee of this particular convention, I had no idea what to expect out of the experience. However, I can certainly say it far surpassed the expectations I had going in. 

As you can see from the featured photos, I connected with over 20 other Wisconsin affiliates during the event. Like any time I’m able to connect with my fellow NAMI community, this was a great opportunity to touch base and hear what other affiliates are up to around the state. 

The convention started with a BANG as over 1,000 mental health advocates stormed Capitol Hill for NAMI’s Hill Day. This enormous advocacy day was a chance for all attendees to share their personal stories and experiences with the Senate and House of Representative offices. As a group, Wisconsin attendees met with staff representatives from Senator Ron Johnson’s office, and then again with Senator Tammy Baldwin’s office. Afterwards, we split up into smaller groups to take on our House of Representative’s offices. I was honored to be part of the group who met with the Speaker of the House himself, Paul Ryan. It was a surreal experience, to say the least. 

The overarching goal of each meeting was centered around the recently proposed Medicaid cuts, which was presented in the recent health reform bill. NAMI’s timing could not have been any more perfect with the upcoming Senate vote. Attendees shared personal stories that emphasized the importance of proper mental health care. I left each meeting feeling empowered to continue initiating change. 

After Hill Day, the convention itself truly began. There were a variety of workshops and seminars full of information related to mental health research, policy updates, affiliate support, and much more. Each breakout session I walked away from, I left with brand new ideas and thoughts to bring back to my team at the NAMI Wisconsin office. 

Overall, I could not have asked for a better experience while in Washington D.C.. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a NAMI Convention, I urge you to do so! I left feeling hopeful for the future and motivated to work harder than ever. 

Written by: Jamie Gurgul, Communications & Events Director

July is Minority Mental Health Month




1 in 5 adults in the United States are affected by a mental health condition. This statistic does not discriminate. Mental illness affects all races, genders, and sexual orientations.

Unfortunately, an individual’s race, ethnicity, and culture can negatively influence their mental health treatment and make it much more difficult to reach a successful point of recovery. Many barriers that marginalized communities may face include: language barriers, extra stigma and shame, racism in treatment settings, lower quality of treatment, and lower healthcare coverage.

Additionally, finding a mental health care treatment program that fits your personal cultural background can present many obstacles. Cultural competence is the behaviors, attitudes and skills that allow a health care provider to work effectively with different cultural groups. Finding culturally competent providers is important because they understand the essential role that culture plays in life and health. A culturally competent provider includes cultural beliefs, values, practices and attitudes in your care to meet your unique needs. Click here for further tips on find a mental health care that fits your cultural background.

As we know, the mental health system is already extremely difficult to navigate during trying times. These barriers make it that much more difficult. Therefore, it’s important that we raise our voices and concerns about these disparities.

Starting the conversation about minority mental health might be intimidating for several reasons: you might not know that much information about other cultures, you might not identify yourself as part of a minority community and you definitely don’t want to offend anyone. These reasons are exactly why Minority Mental Health Month is the perfect opportunity to engage and help more individuals. This awareness month is utilized to show that we are collectively working to make our communities more inclusive because mental illness truly does affect everyone.

So during the month of July, we are challenging you to create this conversation within your own community. There are so many ways to initiate this movement, such as:

  • Call a friend
  • Meet with an elected official
  • Share your personal story
  • ·Host a symposium/forum
  • Post on social media

… the list goes on and on! Whatever you may do during this year’s Minority Mental Health Month, please know that your efforts will help us in spreading the word and make a huge difference in many lives.

For more information, feel free to call the NAMI Wisconsin office at (608) 268-6000 or utilize the resources provided below.

Additional Resources:

NAMI: Learn About Minority Mental Health Month

MHA: Minority Mental Health

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Office of Minority Health

Keep What Works

Will You Lose Your Mental Health Coverage? 

Affordable coverage for mental health care opens doors that help people with mental illness get the treatment they need to succeed at work, at school, and in the community. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), millions of Americans gained coverage for mental health and substance use conditions.

The Senate is discussing their version of health reform and may take action soon. They have a decision to make: protect mental health care or make devastating cuts to Medicaid.

Medicaid is the foundation of our community mental health system. It is the main provider of mental health services for people with serious mental illness. Many in the Senate want to cap Medicaid (a fixed amount of federal funding per person). If Medicaid is capped, it will be harder for people to get psychiatric medications, case management and mental health services. And some people will lose their eligibility for Medicaid.

Simply put, Medicaid caps would DEVESTATE mental health services.

Capping Medicaid would be a move in the wrong direction and push people with mental illness into costly emergency rooms, hospitals and jails. We need more coverage for mental health care, not less.

Act today. Tell the Senate to protect mental health!
Call (202) 224-3121. Press #1. Enter your zip code.

What to say: “Please protect Medicaid and mental health coverage and oppose any health reform bill that:

Caps or limits Medicaid
Ends Medicaid expansion
Takes away protections for people with mental health conditions; or
Leaves fewer Americans with coverage for mental illness.

We cannot protect mental health coverage without your voice. Tell your Senators to #KeepWhatWorks

Click here to E-Mail Your Senator Now!

NAMI Wisconsin Takes Action on the Square

On Thursday, May 4th, over 100 NAMI advocates from around the state gathered in Madison to advocate for mental health. The day kicked off at the Park Hotel where attendees enjoyed brunch and networking with other advocates. The morning program included a welcome address by State Representative Joan Ballweg who discussed her work on the Assembly Mental Health Committee. Immediately following, attendees learned about the Wisconsin state budget process, mental health items included in the Governor’s budget and where the gaps lay. Attendees were then empowered to put their own stories of mental illness into action through an interactive NAMI Smarts Training, provided by Sita Diehl, Director of Policy and State Outreach. 

After brunch, attendees marched to the Capitol where the warm May weather was perfect for a rally. Lime green signs proclaiming: “No Health Without Mental Health” and “Early Intervention Saves Lives”, among others, were the perfect backdrop against the bright, white Capitol building. Passersby heard compelling speeches from consumers, family members, students, advocates and legislators. The diverse line-up of speakers showcased how mental illness does not discriminate—it really does affect everyone. 

After the rally, attendees marched up the Capitol stairs for one-on-one meetings with their elected officials. They discussed the necessity of affordable mental health treatment services, transportation in and around their communities and the important role employment plays in recovery. The event was also attended by almost 50 high school students from Milwaukee who were empowered to be their own advocates and raise their voices about their own mental health challenges. Finally, attendees spoke up for those not able to be present. They explained that there are too many people with mental illness in our jail and prison systems and these individuals also deserve to experience recovery through the appropriate diversion and referral to mental health services. 

Thank you to everyone who attended and took Action on the Square! We couldn’t have done it without you! For those who couldn’t attend, please continue to raise your voice, as all people with mental illness and their families deserve to be heard. 

For more information about how to get involved with advocacy or questions about current mental health legislation, please contact the Advocacy Coordinator at 608-268-6000 or crystal@namiwisconsin.org.

Written by Crystal Hester, Advocacy Coordinator at NAMI Wisconsin

Together We Define Tomorrow

“These conferences just keep getting better! The caliber of speakers is just excellent-- not only great content, but great presentation!” -Conference attendee

Earlier this month, we kicked off Mental Health Month with the NAMI Wisconsin Annual Conference 2017! Over 350 mental health advocates joined us at the Sheraton Madison Hotel, located in Madison, for an eventful two days of workshops and networking.  The conference had over 350 mental health consumers, family members, providers and clinicians, local representatives, and law enforcement partners in attendance. 

This year’s theme, Together We Define Tomorrow, focuses on community collaboration for change. We believe that with each attendee’s unique background and knowledge, we can all collectively come together to initiate change within the mental health system. With this advocacy theme, we were lucky to have local representatives join us, such as Representative Paul Tittl and Representative Melissa Sargent. 

On Friday, May 5th, we kicked off the event with a special address given from Representative Tittl and a keynote address from Chris Prochut. Chris shared his former experiences as a former police commander and his direct experience with his own mental health condition. Attendees then had the opportunity to attend a variety of breakout workshop sessions, which ranged in topics such as utilizing social media, healing yoga techniques, and combating compassion fatigue. 

After the chance to rest and recover from a long day of workshops and networking, attendees gathered for day two of the Annual Conference which promised to be as inspiring and informative as day one. On Saturday, May 6th, we heard an inspiring special address from Representative Melissa Sargent and a keynote address from Mettie Spiess. Mattie shared her heart-wrenching story of losing two brothers to mental illness and how she now turns that grief into motivation to make a difference amongst youth all across the nation. 

From the bottom of our hearts, NAMI Wisconsin would like to thank each and every individual who joined us at the Annual Conference this year. This event couldn’t be as successful without the attendees who support it. We would also like to extend our gratitude to all of the volunteers, presenters, and donors who helped make this conference possible. We truly couldn’t do it without your continued support! 

For more information on how to get involved in the NAMI Wisconsin Annual Conference 2018, please visit our website or contact Jamie, PR & Events Coordinator, at

Written by Jamie Gurgul, PR & Events Coordinator at NAMI Wisconsin

NAMI Wisconsin Annual Conference 2017

It’s that time of year again-- the NAMI Wisconsin Annual Conference 2017! We’re less than two months away from this big event and we could not be more excited to see it come to life.

NAMI Wisconsin’s Annual Conference 2017 promises to be another year of information, inspiration, and celebration. This year’s conference theme, Together We Define Tomorrow, focuses on community collaboration for change. We hope that the Annual Conference 2017 will encompass this and provide an open forum for attendees to learn and grow with one another.

We are lucky to have over 40 talented speakers who are volunteering their time to make the conference so valuable for all attendees. Each speaker will bring expertise and credibility from their various backgrounds in a large variety of topics, such as advocacy, therapy, criminal justice, and recovery/wellness.

No matter where your background and interests may lie, there is a place for you at the NAMI Wisconsin Annual Conference. Previously, we have had representation from many different audiences, such as mental health providers, community leaders, social workers, clinicians, government officials, criminal justice partners, family members, and those facing mental illness. The Annual Conference is a unique opportunity for you to connect with other mental health advocates from across the state of Wisconsin.

In addition to learning and sharing, the NAMI Wisconsin Annual Conference is also a time to celebrate the many statewide successes from around the state. Each attendee has made significant changes in the mental health system in their community.

For more information about the Annual Conference 2017, please email Jamie Gurgul, PR & Events Coordinator, at jamie@namiwisconsin.org. We truly hope that you can join us this year so that together we can define tomorrow.

To see a full Conference agenda, please click here.
To register for the Annual Conference, please click here.