Mental Health Awareness

Kandice RileyMental Health

By Debora Biggs,
Executive Director, NAMI Southwest Missouri 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness approximately 1 in 5 adults will experience a mental illness within a given year and 1 in 25 adults will experience a serious mental illness that impacts and interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. One-half of all chronic mental illnesses emerge by age 14 and three-quarters by the age of 24. The 2017 Community Focus Report states that, “…mental health, including substance abuse, are among the greatest health challenges for our community to understand and treat.” (Community Focus Report 2017, page 12).

What is mental illness?

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.

The recent Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Assessment, was conducted by the Springfield-Greene County Health Department and the Healthy Living Alliance, in order “to garner the best understanding possible of the mental health and substance abuse landscape in Greene County.”  The findings of this assessment are categorized in three domains: Awareness and Early Intervention, Crisis Services, and Access to Appropriate Care.  The underlying common thread through all these domains is stigma.

While many people manage their mental illness, many still are not accessing treatment. The stigma and the negative perceptions associated with mental illness are barriers for many individuals and families.  As noted in the Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Assessment, “stigma is the result of a personal feeling or shame, embarrassment, failure, or judgement around mental health or substance abuse.”

Everyone can help reduce stigma by:

  • Educating yourself about mental health problems. Learn the facts instead of the myths.
  • Be aware of your attitudes and behavior. See people as unique human beings, not as labels or stereotypes.  See the person beyond their mental illness.
  • Choosing your words carefully. The way we speak can affect the way other people think and speak.  Don’t use hurtful or derogatory language about those with mental illness.
  • Find opportunities to educate others by passing on facts and positive attitudes about people with mental health problems.
  • Focus on the positive. People with mental health and substance use problems make valuable contributions to society. Their health problems are just one part of who they are. We’ve all heard the negative stories. Let’s recognize and applaud the positive ones.
  • Treat people who have mental health problems with dignity and respect.
  • Don’t discriminate against people with mental health and substance use problems. Denying people access to things such as jobs, housing and health care, which the rest of us take for granted, violates human rights.

NAMI Southwest Missouri

NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness, is “the area’s voice on mental illness”.

NAMI Southwest Missouri is the local affiliate for NAMI and NAMI Missouri serving the Southwest Missouri area. NAMI SWMO is also a partner agency with United Way of the Ozarks and the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

NAMI Southwest Missouri provides peer support to those living with mental illness and their families through a variety of support groups, educational classes, social activities, peer phone support line and more.  In addition to providing a variety of the NAMI Core Programs, NAMI Southwest Missouri serves as one of five consumer operated service programs (COSP) in Missouri.  COSPs are evidenced based practices that have consistently demonstrated effectiveness in helping those with mental illness achieve their goals.  Peer support means that those employed by NAMI SWMO and its volunteers are individuals living with a mental illness or a family member of someone with a mental illness.  This connection through lived experience provides the opportunity to be understood and not judged for having a mental illness.  The staff and volunteers are living proof that people can and do recover and they understand how mental illness can affect every aspect of living.

The peer support approach to mental illness emphasizes growth and well-being, self-help, personal choice and responsibility.  Everyone discovers that by helping others they also help themselves.  Through the programs and services at NAMI SWMO and through our outreach, education and advocacy, adults learn to manage their mental illness and learn the resources that are available to help them in their journey.  Family members also learn how they can help.

Through our outreach, education and advocacy efforts we work with individuals and family members to help them navigate the health care system, to assist them in getting connected with other appropriate resources, to provide them with opportunities to connect with others, and to insure that they are not alone through their journey with mental illness.  Learning to be your own advocate is an important part of our role at NAMI SWMO, but we also understand that when dealing with a mental illness, working through the system can be so overwhelming to the point that individuals just give up.  We work to be that connection and assistance when they need help.

As a peer support agency, services include a Drop-In Center, called the Hope Center, which includes support groups (including NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group), and other activities for individuals with mental illness that help them to work toward recovery. Our services also include NAMI family support and education courses and support groups and community education programs that aide in breaking down stigma and discrimination. The NAMI Hope Center is open to anyone who would like to connect with peers and talk to others with similar experience or get resources for mental illness. The Hope Center does not discriminate against anyone for any reason; all are welcome. The Hope Center is open from 9:30 am- 5:00 am Monday through Friday and Saturday 9:30 am- 3:30 pm. We are located in the Cox Medical Tower at 1443 N. Robberson Ave, Suite 408 Springfield, MO. You can reach  The Hope Center at 417-864-3027.

NAMI SWMO also provides a Peer Support Warm Line.  By calling the Warm Line, you can speak to a trained peer who will talk to you about your mental illness or issues you may be having and provide meaningful feedback. If you need someone to listen to you and talk, the Warm Line is a great resource. You can contact the Warm Line 9:30 am- 10:00 pm Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 3:30 pm on Saturday, and 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on Sunday. You can reach the Warm Line at 417-864-3676 or toll free at 1-877-535-4357. If you have any questions about NAMI SWMO and our services you can call 417-864-7119.

As the local affiliate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI Southwest Missouri also offers various NAMI education courses not only for those struggling with mental illness, but also to their families and friends and the community.

            For Family members:

  • Family-to-Family: a free, 12-session educational program for family, significant others and friends of people with mental health conditions.
  • Family Support Group: a peer-led support group for any adult with a loved one who has experienced symptoms of a mental health condition.
  • NAMI Basics: a 6-session education program for parents, guardians and other family who provide care for youth (age 22 or younger) who are experiencing mental health symptoms.
  • NAMI Homefront: a free, 6-session educational program for families, caregivers and friends of military service members and veterans with mental health conditions.

For the Community:

  • In Our Own Voice: free, 40-, 60- or 90-minutes presentations that provide a personal perspective of mental health conditions, as leaders with lived experience talk openly about what it’s like to have a mental health condition.
  • Ending the Silence: an engaging presentation that help audience members learn about the warning signs of mental health conditions and what steps to take if you or a loved one are showing symptoms of a mental health condition.


Mental Health Facts in America:

Taking Charge of Your Mental Health: