Can a Grassroots Organization Successfully Affect Our Mental Health System?

by Meesha Blair

Grassroots SuccessMay is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental Health is a hot topic in the media right now. That’s not surprising: one-in-five adults experience a mental health condition, and one-in-seventeen will suffer from a serious condition like Schizophrenia, Bipolar I or Major Depressive Disorder. Include families in those numbers, and almost everyone is affected.

Unfortunately, there are insufficient mental health services for the need. People needing long-term care populate streets, jails, prisons and emergency rooms.

Enter NAMI. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is the largest nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of anyone affected by mental health conditions. In Jackson and Josephine Counties, NAMI Southern Oregon (NAMI SO) closely follows legislation that affects the mental health system and participates in task forces and advisory boards that pertain to mental health.

“We know a collaborative approach is best to bring about improvements,” says NAMI SO President, Lezley Sanders. “Providers truly care for their patients and clients, and NAMI has this unique ability to share perspectives of our members who are actually using those mental health systems.”

NAMI SO contributes to such efforts as Mental Health Court, Crisis Intervention Team Training, and advocating for parity-of-care and discontinuing Solitary Confinement.

They also offer free support groups. In addition to Family Support Groups, there is a weekly Connection Group, where those battling mental health conditions can learn from one another.

“Support from one’s peers is essential,” explains Connection facilitator, Sherry McCowan. “We recognize that getting out of bed can be a victory; if we can’t get up, then just living through the day may be a triumph. In Connection Group, others understand that too. You don’t have to feel like something’s wrong with you…” (Find NAMI support groups at

Education is another major focus, such as NAMI Family-to-Family and Peer-to-Peer classes. Presentations like Ending the Silence – recently delivered to Eagle Point and South Medford High Schools – spur important community discussion around topics of suicide, depression and other mental health conditions, as well as how to find help – and hope. (Call 541.774.7872 to request a presentation.)

In May, education efforts continue with Movies 4 Mental Health – three short films covering subjects such as Depression, Anxiety and Borderline Personality Disorder. Partnering with SOU and RCC, NAMI SO will offer showings in both Ashland and Grants Pass (May 18th and 19th, respectively). In the post-film panels, university students will share firsthand experiences. Treatment options will be explored in a Resource Fair, refreshments provided, and a silent auction will benefit NAMI SO’s year-round efforts. Free tickets for this informative and uplifting event can be reserved at

NAMI knows they cannot fill all current mental health needs. They do pledge, though, to keep advocating, supporting and educating until all mental health needs can be met in a timely and humane manner.

NAMI SO seriously needs volunteers to facilitate classes. (Training provided.) If you’d consider helping in this way, please call 541.774.7872.