Guest Columnist

NAMI: With routines upended, mental health comes into focus

The Gazette asked Eastern Iowa nonprofit leaders to write about the changing needs of our community in 2020

A sign marks the meeting room for the University of Iowa Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illiness (NAMI), Thu
A sign marks the meeting room for the University of Iowa Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illiness (NAMI), Thursday January 27, 2011 in the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City. (Becky Malewitz/SourceMedia Group News)

This has been a challenging year, to say the least! In 2020, each of us has faced numerous stressors related to our health, financial stability, relationships, job or educational endeavors. But as this singular year draws to a close, the aspect of our lives most affected by the course of events is our mental health.

As a pandemic — and then a derecho — upset the routines and stability of daily life so dramatically in Eastern Iowa, many of us have experienced increased emotional stress. We’re not alone: A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey found the rate of anxiety disorders in 2020 is three times the rate reported in 2019. The prevalence of depressive disorders is four times higher. About one-fourth of us report symptoms of a trauma-related stress disorder, approximately one in 10 people say they started or increased substance use, and approximately twice as many respondents in 2020 as in 2019 report serious consideration of suicide.

In the face of all this, we offer hope and help. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Through educational programs, support groups, helplines, fundraising, advocacy and awareness initiatives, and numerous activities and events that support hope and recovery, NAMI advocates for, and provides support to those who struggle with mental illness, as well as their families, friends, and care providers. For the past 40 years, since its founding in Madison, Wisconsin, NAMI has worked to support mental health, but in 2020 our work has become absolutely vital. NAMI is an alliance of more than 600 local affiliates across the United States, and NAMI Linn County is here in your community, working for you.

As 2021 approaches, NAMI Linn County invites and encourages you to be an agent of change by supporting our efforts to improve mental health in challenging times. Now more than ever, you can make a difference. Here’s how you can help, whether you are an individual, a group, or a business:

• Donate to, sponsor, or become a member of NAMI Linn County (https://namilinncounty.org/donate_now/). We welcome contributions of any size.

• Give through the generosity of your time or service. We welcome any and all who are interested in learning more about, and helping to extend the reach, of NAMI signature programs (such as NAMI Family-to-Family or the NAMI Family Support Group). Lend us your writing or organizational skills as we apply for grants or work to raise other funds to support and expand our mission.

• Promote business partnerships through virtual employee volunteering for high-impact experiences, community wellness, and the satisfaction of supporting worthwhile activities of NAMI Linn County.

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• Join us in the 2021 NAMIWalk. Conducted in spring by the NAMI chapters in Linn and Johnson counties, NAMIWalk represents our chapters’ largest annual fundraiser and awareness event and is now in the planning stages.

• Call (319-221-1184) or email us (nami-lc@hotmail.com) if you have a unique idea about a project that will benefit our community. Tell us what you’d like to see NAMI Linn County accomplish or change in 2021.

During the 2020 holidays, the members, volunteers and board members of NAMI Linn County wish you good health, peace of mind, and hope for recovery. We look forward to continuing to serve and partner with you, as we all work toward positive mental health.

Stacey A. Pawlak, Ph.D., is a board member and webmaster of NAMI Linn County.

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