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National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI) Guide

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

Medically reviewed by

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

February 11, 2019

In a day and age where nearly one in five Americans suffer from some form of mental illness, increased awareness, advocacy, and resources are key to providing the access, acceptance, support, and treatment that are essential to bettering the lives of those who suffer from these illnesses. This is no small undertaking and one which requires comprehensive and extensive care. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a nationwide organization which has become the cornerstone of this endeavor.

What Is The Scope Of Mental Illness Within The United States?

From more well-known and prevalent disorders, such as depression and anxiety, to the less familiar and more rare ones, such as certain phobias, the scope of mental illness across the United States is wide. The prevalence of these disorders carries with it adverse effects that reach deep into the heart of our country, our homes, and our families.

While recent research cites that almost 20 percent of Americans suffer from a mental illness, the World Health Organization (WHO) asserts an even higher percentage, writing that worldwide, one in four individuals will suffer from a mental or neurological disorder within their life.

Also, according to WHO information and other studies, the United States has consistently ranked higher in terms of rates of mental illnesses in comparison to other countries, at certain points throughout the years. Sadly, within these periods, our country has at times also witnessed some of the smaller percentages of treatment, creating an unfortunate treatment gap.

Among numerous other elements, it is this discrepancy between need and treatment that the National Alliance on Mental Illness seeks to alleviate.

What Is The National Alliance On Mental Illness?

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a grassroots organization which has tasked itself with delivering transformative outreach, information, support, and resources to the community of individuals who struggle with mental illness and their families. A non-profit entity, NAMI’s  efforts are supported by gifts and contributions.

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Perhaps, the largest of its kind, NAMI is comprised of state organizations, a wealth of local affiliates, and community-based volunteers, all of whom are committed to engaging, and improving, the lives of those who suffer at the hand of mental illness, especially those with serious mental illness. The spectrum of NAMI’s care and resources also extend to these individual’s loved ones, support networks, care providers, educational institutions, and vocational or employment providers.

NAMI Provides Insight On Mental Illnesses

The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers a comprehensive database of information on specific mental illnesses, including resources relating to treatment, support, and even discussion boards; and also information on conditions related to mental illness.

They also publish interesting and engaging blogs which present these illnesses within the scope of day-to-day lives and situations, helping to decrease stigma, increase acceptance, and encourage healthy coping and interpersonal skills. As an added outreach and resource base, there are almost 1,000 NAMI State Organizations and NAMI Affiliates. Go here to find one located near you.

What Is Their Mission?

In order to ensure the momentum and impact of their goals, NAMI is committed to deliver a dynamic and multidirectional approach, aimed at helping individuals in need from the ground up.  To best ensure this, as sourced from the “Identity and Mission” page of the organization’s site, NAMI champions for effective:

  • Prevention
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Support
  • Research
  • Recovery

Also from this page, NAMI asserts that they provide “advocacy, education, support and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives. To meet that goal, NAMI is building a movement. We seek to broaden public awareness and inclusion in every part of our alliance. We seek to increase our visibility and impact; strengthen our voice as a unified organization of lived experiences and maximize our outreach to and engagement with all communities.”

How Does NAMI Spread Their Message?

To accomplish these goals and reach those in need, as outlined by their website, the National Alliance on Mental Illness invests their efforts within four key areas, seeking to improve the climate surrounding mental health within our nation:

By Educating:

Outreach and support requires that individuals have constant and updated access to information that is relevant to treating and engaging those with mental health needs. To do this, NAMI State Organizations and NAMI Affiliates provide numerous education programs designed for various groups of individuals affected by or connected to mental illness, including:

NAMI Classes:

  • NAMI Basics
  • NAMI Family-to-Family
  • NAMI Homefront
  • NAMI Peer-to-Peer
  • NAMI Provider Education

These free classes provide education for individuals, their families, and other entities that may support them, while offering instruction on advocacy, recovery, increased coping skills, and other areas pertinent to engaging and supporting a person’s mental health needs.

NAMI Presentations:

To spread their message of hope and change to a wider audience, NAMI has prepared various presentations which relay messages of advocacy, understanding, support, and outreach. These presentations also educate individuals on the warning signs and symptoms of mental illness, the importance of an early intervention, the means of obtaining help, and the power and possibility of recovery. Each presentation is prepared for a different group of individuals, and includes:

  • NAMI Ending the Silence
  • NAMI In Our Own Voice
  • NAMI Parents & Teachers as Allies
  • NAMI Compartiendo Esperanza
  • NAMI Sharing Hope

NAMI Support Groups:

Mental illnesses quite commonly impose a sense of loneliness or isolation upon an individual. Support groups are one dynamic and engaging way that fight these states, offering suffers of mental illness and their families a means to connect, so that they may learn valuable coping skills, greater resiliency, and increased compassion, among may other valuable interpersonal connections. These groups include:

  • NAMI Connection
  • NAMI Family Support Group

By Outreach And Advocacy:

To encourage and direct those who have personally encountered a mental illness within their live, or that of a loved one, to one to turn their experience into an opportunity for advocacy, NAMI has created NAMI Smarts for Advocacy. This progressive, hands-on training helps interested parties in learning how to effectively tell their story, increase their communication skills, and in setting up meetings with governmental officials.

Click here for more information on these many programs and to look for one near you.

Through a network of compassionate volunteers and an intense focus and commitment to changing public policy, NAMI works towards increasing awareness of mental illness, while ensuring that the funding and access to treatment remains constant. Within their commitment to public policy, NAMI focuses on the following:

  • Family education and support
  • Addressing the incarceration of and need for treatment in individuals with mental illness
  • Medicaid and Medicaid expansion
  • Screenings for mental health concerns
  • Mental health parity
  • Mental health awareness, education, and support in schools
  • Laws and issues concerning violence and gun reporting which relate to mental illness

By Listening:

A toll-free resource, NAMI HelpLine is a free service which offers lifesaving information by way of resources, referrals, and support to individuals in need.

Find Help In A Crisis 24/7

Call the 24/7 NAMI HelpLine at: 800-950-NAMI

To connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message:

Text “NAMI” to: 741741

By Leading

By consistently engaging in public activities and events which foster awareness, such as Mental Illness Awareness Week and NAMIWalks, NAMI actively fights the stigma and discrimination that many with a mental illness face. This outreach includes working with news organizations to promote a greater, and more mainstream, understanding of mental health and mental illness across our country.

Who Do These Services Seek To Address? GOALS

Within their public policy, the National Alliance on Mental Illness is committed to alleviating any stigma, burden, or hurdle attached to an individual’s mental illness, while providing them with greater access to equal and compassionate care, support, quality of life, and opportunities.

Adult-Directed Care:

In adhering to the belief that the government should create, implement, and preserve community support systems, including “treatment and services, as well as short-and long-range plans,” NAMI illuminates key points which should be taken into consideration when addressing the needs of an adult with a serious mental illness.

  • To encourage the best outcome, treatment should be grounded in “respect, acceptance, and hope”
  • Publicly funded services should be evidenced based
  • Integrated treatment for co-occurring mental illnesses and addiction
  • Well-trained professionals who deliver consumer-centered continuity of care
  • Access to safe and affordable housing that serves their specific needs, including supportive or group care
  • Protect a person’s home while they’re attending to urgent mental health needs
  • Opportunities for meaningful employment
  • “Full and fair access for people with mental illnesses to education, continuing education, vocational rehabilitation, training, professional development, personal development, employment, business and business assistance. Federal and state education, workplace rights, employment opportunity and worker’s”
  • An ability to be involved and supported in making choices related to the above
  • That each and every entity that provides care for an individual attempts to work together to provide more effective care and better opportunities
  • Educational programs for these individuals and their families
  • Peer-directed and -designed programs should be supported by public funds

Youth-Directed Care:

Within their commitment to providing comprehensive and compassionate outreach and support, NAMI places emphasis on providing those children, adolescents, and young adults who struggle with mental illnesses and their families with an “array of treatment, services and supports that address prevention, early intervention, recovery, and support.” To do so, NAMI defines certain facets which should be embodied within these approaches, such as:

  • Home- and community-based programs
  • Programs centered within schools at all levels
  • Instruction and guidance for families of these youth
  • Directed and attuned case management
  • Crisis intervention resources
  • Integrating a wrap-around approach to these outreaches
  • Respite care
  • Mentoring opportunities
  • Peer-support programs
  • Therapy-based recreational outreach
  • Vocational and rehabilitative options
  • Inpatient, residential-based treatment

To further these goals, NAMI encourages educational institutions to enact policies and procedures that are adjusted to their student’s mental health needs, in accordance with fostering the best outcome within their academic endeavors.

In addition to this outreach, the National Alliance on Mental Illness recognizes certain “special populations” and outlines specific considerations and measures of care unique to each group. These include:

Priority Populations:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness outlines their focus on certain “priority populations,” including those “children, youth and adults with serious mental illnesses who need services and support, often throughout their lives.” Specifically, this applies to individuals who have been diagnosed with serious mental illnesses “that significantly impair major life activities, interpersonally, vocationally, educationally, and in managing activities of daily living.” These include:

  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Autism and pervasive developmental disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic and other severe anxiety disorders
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Schizophrenia

In addition, they also list co-occurring substance use disorders and “Other mental illnesses that result in seriously disabling consequences; or a high risk of co-morbidity or mortality: and have a long term course.”

Culturally Diverse Groups:

In providing accessible care to everyone, NAMI recognizes that certain groups may not always receive thorough or equivalent care, training, or rehabilitation. They note the following groups: “Persons of different ages, and of varying cultures, racial, religious, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, disability, including person who are deaf and hearing impaired, and those for whom English is not the primary language.”

To better serve these individuals, NAMI encourages that:

  • Those providing care be trained and sensitive to certain needs, including cultural diversity
  • Certain professionals actually come from these groups
  • “Culturally and linguistically appropriate” resources be made available
  • Underserved groups receive directed and unbiased outreach
  • Programs endeavor to encompass ethic and/or culturally pertinent information and views

Older Individuals:

This population has unique needs, because of this NAMI urges greater research into mental illness within aging populations. They also assert that treatment for this age group should:

  • Be based and change according to the altered metabolic states that naturally occur with aging.
  • Take into account how physical, social, economic, and additional factors change with age.
  • Understand that certain factors common to this population may lead to mental illness, including an alcohol addiction and depression. These contributing factors include: isolation, health issues, or a loss of loved ones.
  • Consider that they may have lost caregivers or loved who took care of them.

Taking these factors into account, NAMI promotes treatment which is continuously adapted to the ongoing needs of older individuals.

Active Duty Military and Service Veterans:

Within this group, NAMI believes individuals should “receive the same full range of integrated diagnosis, treatment services, and supports across a continuum of care as should be available to all people with serious mental illnesses…regardless of the provider.” These individuals include:

  • Active military duty
  • National Guard
  • Reserves
  • Veterans
  • Families of these individuals

They also note that particular attention should be granted to co-occurring disorders, any adjacent medications, and women, who overall have varying needs and circumstances concerning mental health care needs.

In order to combat the discrimination and struggles that returning service men and women often face when searching for employment, NAMI concludes that effective treatment and support should engage these individual’s pursuits by offering:

  • Education
  • Training
  • Referral services
  • Hiring preferences
  • Supported employment
  • Professional credentialing

Individuals Who Are Homeless Or “Missing”:

Mental illnesses is often connected to instances of homelessness. Without a stable home life and environment, NAMI asserts that an individual cannot readily achieve their treatment goals. They believe that those with serious mental illnesses:

  • Should have access to an individualized treatment protocol which connects to their other treatment plans or institutions of care.
  • Should be afforded “courtesy, compassion, and respect” in all interactions regarding their health and serious mental illness.
  • Who are veterans, should receive support and guidance so that they can obtain stable and safe housing.

Individuals With HIV:

According to NAMI, any individual with a serious mental illness should be granted the opportunity to receive an HIV test. Also, they believe that an HIV positive individual should have safe treatment for these co-occurring health conditions. Lastly, education, counseling services, and supportive care should be made available to these individuals, their families, and treatment providers.

Children Who Have A Serious Mental Illness:

These children deserve care and support that allows them to grow within a nurturing environment. As soon as possible, these children should receive:

  • A proper diagnosis.
  • Care tailored to the diagnosis.
  • Access to services which support their specific needs and recovery.
  • In-depth care within the setting of their home or community, if available.
  • Access to a crisis response system.
  • Access to qualified mental health providers in crisis situations.

To better provide this, NAMI advocates for renewed attention on local, state, and federal levels, and more enhanced communication and effort between all applicable parties, inducing families, communities, schools, welfare systems, and juvenile justice systems.

Additional Elements Of NAMI’s Public Policy

In order to cultivate and nurture an environment of awareness, acceptance, and progressive thought and action, NAMI directs its policy and endeavors towards the following goals:

To Decrease Stigma:

This organization condemns stigma and discrimination and asserts that mental illness is not a failure of will or character. The organization “considers acts of stigma to be discrimination. Stigma reflects prejudice, dehumanizes people with mental illness, trivializes their legitimate concerns, and is a significant barrier to effective delivery of mental health services.”

To Furthering Treatment:

To ensure the best measure of individualized care, NAMI has designated certain elements of treatment which should be considered and implemented within a person’s treatment, when relevant to their situation. These include:

  • The provision of culturally competent care
  • Access to evidence-based care
  • Allowing the patient to seek the provider of their choice or who best serves their needs
  • Early mental health screenings
  • An early diagnosis and intervention
  • Integrated and collaborative healthcare between the primary and mental health care providers
  • Psychotherapy
  • Access to psychiatric medications
  • Keeping an individual on a medication if it is working
  • Prevention and awareness of other serious medical conditions that often accompany mental illness
  • Mind, body, and spirit wellness
  • Providing support of and access to activities, lifestyles, and outreach that promote wellness
  • Substance abuse prevention
  • Individualized treatment plans
  • Outpatient and/or inpatient treatment options
  • Integrating a person’s family into their care
  • Routinely evaluating the situation or outcome

To Continuous Research:

To promote greater awareness, evidence-based care, and better resources, NAMI supports various research endeavors, such as:

  • Behavioral research
  • Biomedical research
  • Clinical research
  • Cultural specific mental health and substance use research
  • Neuroscience research
  • Pharmaceutical research
  • Psychopharmacological research
  • Service system research

NAMI Provides A Wealth Of Resources To Spread Their Message

To disseminate this information, the National Alliance on Mental Illness produces and distributes a variety of publications geared towards educating on and advocating for mental illness, while also informing individuals on the current state of affairs surrounding the mental health needs, outreach, programs, etc. within our country.

These publications provide accurate and comprehensive information on mental illness and the legislation, research, and events that pertain to it. They also publish various surveys and stories on mental illness. These publications include:

  • Advocate magazine: This periodical is for NAMI members and is published three times a year. Topics range from personal anecdotes, to cultural points of interest, and current research.
  • Digital newsletters: Currently, NAMI has two e-newsletters: NAMI Now, which contains relevant mental illness-related news, blogs, research, and highlights from arts and culture; and NAMI e-News, which focuses on current governmental matters and public policy related to mental illness.
  • Public policy reports: These reports are resources on current, breaking trends, to keep the public abreast of important policies concerning mental illness.
  • Survey reports: To better connect individuals on the shared and differing experiences and perspectives surrounding mental illness, NAMI publishes a variety of public and community survey reports.

We Can Help You Address Any Co-Occurring Disorders

If you’d like to learn more about the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or if you’d like to find out about effective, compassionate, and evidenced-based care for a co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorder, reach out for help. is committed to providing you, or your loved one, with the direction, support, and resources that can make your treatment needs a reality. Contact us today.

National Alliance on Mental Illness - Home Page - Mental Health and Mental Disorders

World Health Organization - Mental disorders affect one in four people

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