As focus grows on stressors and anxieties tend to rise through the holiday season, a small but mighty advocacy organization reminds Peninsula families that mental health should be a priority through the rest of the year as well.
NAMI, or National Alliance on Mental Illness, celebrated 45 years of assisting those with mental illness, as well as families and community members facing associated challenges.
Executive Director Helene Zimmerman said the nonprofit headquartered in San Mateo makes contact with thousands of locals each year trying to improve with their own mental health, or that of a loved one.
“We are out there in a big way with a very limited staff and limited office space,” said Zimmerman,” who is the organization’s only full-time employee.
With the assistance of a couple more part-time employees and a dedicated core of roughly 50 volunteers, Zimmerman said NAMI organizes a breadth of diverse programs accommodating a changing and growing Peninsula population.
NAMI operates a “warm line,” which differs from a crisis line, but can serve as a point of contact for those needing mental health services, hosts group support seminars discussions for those with mental illnesses and separate sessions for impacted families. The organization also coordinates educational events for the community, hosts fundraisers and awareness events as well as many other functions.
“Our goal is to reach out into the community and try to bring better health services to a majority of the residents of the county,” said Carol Gosho, a NAMI board member.
For its dedication in building what Zimmerman said is considered the nation’s largest grassroots mental health advocacy group, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors recently recognized NAMI.
Also, in 2018, the board granted $15,000 to sponsor NAMI’s program through which peers assist those with mental illness recover and integrate into their community.
“Providing a holistic and ongoing network of support for those dealing with mental health challenges is a means to help local residents maintain stability in their communities and reduce the stigmas often attached to mental illness,” said Supervisor Dave Pine, in a prepared statement released when the grant was awarded. “I am very pleased to help champion this investment.”
While NAMI has established a strong track record locally, Gosho noted the shifting demographic of the Peninsula requires the organization to continue expanding its services to meet an evolving set of needs.
“There are additional issues that weren’t there 45 years ago, but we will be paying a lot closer attention to those,” said Gosho.
As is the case for residents throughout the county, Gosho said housing and associated issues are a primary concern for NAMI, especially considering the vulnerable population served by the organization.
Also, assuring access is preserved for those experiencing mental health emergencies at the county’s limited amount of psychiatric beds remains a priority for the immediate future, said Zimmerman. And Gosho said NAMI plans to dedicate efforts in the coming years to make certain it is best serving the community.
“We will be launching a whole new effort to really reach out and educate ourselves on what is needed because we are really just touching the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
Zimmerman agreed the organization’s mission will continue to develop in 2020 and beyond, while also acknowledging this can be a particularly difficult time of year for many who may need services offered by NAMI.
“Major holidays, birthday, anniversaries — those are time when families and individuals may feel more down that possibly depressed,” she said.
Call 628-0800 to reach the NAMI warm line, or call 579-0350 in case of a mental health emergency.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105