2020 marks the 35th anniversary of NAMI DuPage, a local nonprofit that provides support, education and advocacy to individuals living with mental illness and their families. Since that time, NAMI DuPage has served tens of thousands of people annually, including more than 30,000 last year. But instead of planning the typical anniversary celebrations, NAMI DuPage has spent much of 2020 responding to the evolving pandemic, pivoting to online platforms and expanding programs to meet the increased need for high quality, low-cost mental health services.
NAMI DuPage was started in 1985 by parents of adult children with mental illness, all of whom had experienced decades of little support, lack of information, and disparate medical care. In many cases, they also were profoundly isolated. With an indomitable spirit, they began by identifying what they believed were the unmet needs of their children and their families and strategized how they could build on existing programs and services. In spring of 2020, NAMI DuPage also underwent a strategic analysis of programs and services to determine how to best reduce anxiety, depression, and one of the key mental health risks in the pandemic—social isolation.
These are some of the accomplishments of NAMI DuPage during the past few months:
- Transitioned its support groups to online format within the first week of the stay at home order, and offered NAMI affiliates without the technical capabilities an opportunity to join ours;
- Continued its Living Room respite program in-person at regular hours. The Living Room is an alternative to the Emergency Room for those experiencing heightened mental health symptoms, but which do not rise to the level of Emergency Department assistance.
- Contacted more than 1800 households within 2 months to offer assistance and check on well-being
- Offered online and telephonic peer-to-peer counseling
- Provided resource assistance via phone and email
- Presented workshops/seminars on timely topics such as suicide awareness, parenting through the pandemic, and developing coping skills
- Presented an online employment class and started an online job club
- Maintained its onsite print shop (social enterprise) in conjunction with its Supported Employment Program
- Offered an in-person and online Remembrance Ceremony for those who have lost a loved one to suicide
- Offered online recreation activities including trivial pursuit, bingo, book club and art class
- Hosted an Octoberfest (in-person) at the DuPage County Fairgrounds with 3 bands, including the Northwestern/CDH physicians and medical providers group, The Vital Signs. In addition, there was a kids Halloween costume contest, balloon animals for children, and baby goats to play with! (We can provide pictures, too!)
We know that even when the pandemic has lost its grip on our health and economy, mental health issues will remain. Hundreds of thousands of American families have lost a loved one, millions of people have lost jobs or businesses, abused alcohol or drugs, and destroyed relationships. Many are facing food insecurity, eviction, and in some cases, imprisonment. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for trauma, but there is recovery. It is hard work and often a lifelong process, but at NAMI DuPage, our peers and speakers who are themselves in recovery, will tell you, “No matter your situation, there is always hope.”
Geri Kerger, Executive Director
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