Did you know that mental illness is more common than physical illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease? Yet we don’t often discuss anxiety, depression, and personality disorders, for example, because of the stigma attached to them. Unfortunately, this can prevent people from getting the help they need to lead a successful life -- whether that’s seeking support from friends and family or getting access to a therapist or medication.
“I think it’s important for people to know we’re out there and available as a free resource, which is really helpful for people who might not be able to afford outside services like support groups or ongoing education classes,” said Anna Moffit, who serves as the NAMI Dane County executive director and was a former elementary education teacher and Madison School Board member.
Moffit, like many of NAMI’s staff and volunteers, has a personal connection with mental illness. She shared that she experienced postpartum depression and lives with anxiety disorder, her mother struggled with bipolar disorder, and her grandfather was treated for schizophrenia at Mendota Mental Health Institute.
Staggering statistics show that suicide is the second leading cause of death in the world for 15-24 year olds and nearly 40% of high school students surveyed through the Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Study indicated high levels of anxiety, which are some of the reasons NAMI is bringing advocacy and awareness initiatives directly to youth. For example, NAMI shares educational presentations with the community that discuss mental wellness and suicide prevention: Ending the Silence (geared toward middle and high school students), In Our Own Voice (intended for organizations, businesses, and churches), and Mental Health Chat (a new program developed for elementary school students).
NAMI also offers a number of programs at no cost to participants, including those for women with depression, family and caregivers of newly diagnosed youth, veterans, and adults living with mental illness. Last year NAMI Dane County served about 2,500 people through its education classes (that require you to sign up) and peer support groups (that are drop-in) and over 500 people attended its community presentations. Donations and willing volunteers ensure that these critical services remain free and can reach more people.
The organization’s largest fundraiser and awareness event of the year, NAMIWalks Dane County, is coming up at noon Sunday, October 6. The goal is to raise $185,000, and you can sign up to participate in the 5K walk at Olin-Turville Park in Madison or contribute to a team. Refreshments will be provided before the walk and a cookout will be held after the walk. A bounce house and games for kids will be available before and after the walk (from 10:30 a.m. to noon and 1-2:30 p.m.).
Samantha Haas, who is part of the Mad City Dream Homes marketing team, will be participating in NAMIWalks to honor the beautiful life of her friend and former newspaper coworker, Amber Levenhagen, who passed away from injuries sustained in a car accident in August. Amber had intended to do the walk to raise awareness and funds for NAMI Dane County, an organization she relied on and openly told others about to help them understand that there’s no shame in getting help. “Mental health awareness was something (Amber) was passionate about, as she struggled with her own darkness but always brought light to everyone around her,” said Kimberly Wethal, Amber’s best friend and coworker who organized a team in her memory.
To join or contribute to the NAMIWalks team, search for “In Memory of Amber Levenhagen” at namiwalks.org. (Above right: Samantha Haas took this photo of her friend, Amber Levenhagen, who supported NAMI Dane County and was a bright light to those who knew her.)
To learn more about NAMI Dane County, visit namidanecounty.org, or call 608-249-7188 to speak with their friendly and knowledgeable staff and volunteers from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.