Mental illness was always a reality in my family, but frequently relegated to back-room conversations. Even when close relatives were in treatment, it was never discussed in the open or brought up in gatherings like other medical problems. The stigma was strong enough to where it felt like a social ill—something that defined the character of the person or their parenting instead of a chemical imbalance.
The reality and seriousness of the situation didn’t set in until my cousin, Erich, committed suicide in August 2016. We were at a loss, and what made it worse was that it was not my family’s first suicide. My uncle took his life 11 months earlier. The weight of it all set us back. We didn’t know this staggering statistic: after one person in a family dies by suicide, it’s more likely that another family member will also die in that way. But we weren’t going to let this continue. That’s when someone recommended NAMI support groups.
At the time we learned about NAMI, we were alone.
We had so many questions that didn’t have answers. We weren’t sure of our future, and we didn’t know what was available to us to help us process this tragedy. But through NAMI, my family found community. They found hope, and they found strength. They found resources for how to help others and where to receive help for themselves.
This is the same type of community that I see at NAMI Wake County. Family members and individuals come to groups when they are in crisis, and by being surrounded by others who have been there, they are able to leave with ideas on how to move forward. We also have people who aren’t in crisis who show up because this is their community. It’s the people who attend these meetings that give them tools so that they don’t end up in crisis. It’s a community of people who don’t judge, but instead, accept and encourage.
While nothing can bring back Erich or my Uncle Leon, I believe that as a community we can create a different culture. We can advocate for easy access to quality services, we can create an environment where people aren’t ashamed to get help and we can cultivate a society that knows how to support one another so that crises are less frequent and hope prevails.
For information on how to find support groups and education classes near you, please visit www.nami-wake.org.
– Annie Schmidt, Executive Director, NAMI Wake County
This blog is a part of our People Matter series. View more from this series here.