By Brittany Dekorte
Around two hundred people came together to discuss mental health, as the Washtenaw County branch of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) hosted it’s annual conference on Oct. 29 at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) Teaching and Learning Center.
NAMI of Washtenaw County is focused on advocacy and education, according to Mark Creekmore, the local chapter president.
“We work with the WISD training teachers and parents the signs to look out for, and how to be good allies. We do training with local schools, have done training with EMU and U of M. College is an important age, with a lot of transitions and increasing responsibility, and those things can trigger mental health crises, which often lead to dropouts,” Creekmore said.
Kevin Fischer, NAMI Michigan’s Executive director, gave the keynote speech for the event. His speech focused visibility and stigma behind mental health, and the work NAMI has been doing to lobby better mental health registration.
“Our voices are louder, and I’ve never been prouder of the community at large, and how far we’ve come. I have to shout out NAMI Washtenaw members in particular as public hearings were held in Lansing, earlier this year over the 298 legislation, NAMI members sat in the front row, they had their NAMI tee shirts on, it was a long day with a lot of testimony, the chair actually stopped and acknowledged the group, and said to come forward and be heard. There were over 300 people who appeared to do public testimony that day, and that never happens,” Fischer said.
There were multiple panels, lectures and discussions held at the conference, with people telling personal stories and discussing how to help people having a crisis, about how to deal with a dual diagnosis, about how to talk with healthcare providers.
One, called ‘Helping Youth to Prevent a Mental Health Crisis’, was lead by Alison Paine, an assistant professor at LCC, whose son attends WCC. Paine helps with Ending the Silence, a program funded by NAMI to teach teachers and parents how to be a good ally.
“If you do work with youth, and someone comes to you, you need to say ‘ you are not the first, and you won’t be the last. I have dealt with many students with similar concerns or situations. There are many students who feel the same way you do and are going through the same thing you are going through.’ Normalizing the situation is essential. Some of these kids think they are totally alone,” Paine said.
“They keep mentioning here the idea of dual diagnosis. This conference has been a dual benefit for me, as both a nursing student, and the father of an autistic son,” Jim Abraham, president of WCC student nursing association said.