As the daughter of a psychiatrist, I grew up hearing about the great mental health services that NAMI provides to the community. I proudly wore NAMI hats and shirts at NAMIWalks year after year, but I did not fully appreciate or understand what I was supporting until this year. During an internship with NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore this year, I became more aware of the wide scope of support that NAMI offers. Coming from Boston, I was new to the Baltimore area and hesitant to start a new internship on top of a full academic workload. The entire NAMI Metro Baltimore staff took me under their wing and guided me through what turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
During an information session that I helped organize in the Madison/East End Neighborhood, I was listening to volunteers share their experience with mental illness when a concerned aunt shared about her nephew who was living with a co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorder. I started realizing how important it is that NAMI supports not only people who are directly suffering from a mental illness, but also their loved ones. Family and friends who support someone living with mental illness face significant hardship, stress, and pain; they need support, too.
As we wrapped up the session, the concerned aunt looked much more relieved to know she was not alone in what she was feeling—an overwhelming desire to fix things for her nephew while struggling with the knowledge that her nephew must be the one to take the first step. Just knowing that NAMI Metro Baltimore was available to both her and her nephew was a source of comfort for her.
At another information session that focused on trauma, I heard people talk about traumatic experiences in their lives, including miscarriages, deaths of loved ones, and breakups. I realized all of us have gone through something traumatic at one point or another in our lives. We all have a past that we are working through and a future that we are working towards. It is resources like NAMI that let us know we are not alone and that help is available when we are lost.
One of the most important lessons I learned during my internship is this: no one is immune to mental illness. Anyone’s mental health can change, and anyone can have a loved one who develops a mental illness. NAMI aims to wipe away the stigma that is so often associated with mental illness which prevents people from seeking the help they need. This is the point of NAMI’s information sessions and classes—to give people an outlet to ask for help and to provide guidance during a time of need.
Naomi Plasky served as the 2015-2016 Johns Hopkins SOURCE Service Scholar at NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore. She supported outreach efforts to expand NAMI’s support and education programs in previously underserved . Naomi is pursuing a MPH/MBA at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
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