The path to NAMI is as diverse as the people who find it. The individual may be a consumer, a parent, sibling, spouse or friend. The need may be due to a horrific event like suicide, being jailed, failed hospitalizations or the shutdown of a board and care facility. All these paths have one common thread: a porchlight ready to welcome and never judge.
Peter Newman found his way to NAMI while attending a mood disorder presentation at Stanford University. He learned about the soon-to-be launch of NAMI’s Peer to Peer program. Peter, who openly talks about his bipolar disorder said, “Education formed a very important part of my own recovery so I participated in the first Peer to Peer mentor training course.”
Navah Statman, former president of NAMI-SCC and the presenter of that Stanford event, struggled to find care for her daughter’s mental illness. Twenty year ago, group programs focused on substance abuse not mental illness. Community support services fell short. Her daughter’s psychiatrist suggested the family go to NAMI.
The referral path by doctors, hospitals, therapists and county services to NAMI has helped families gain understanding and cope, as does calling the NAMI Helpline. In 2019 Helpline calls increased 24 percent compared to 2018.
One local mother learned about NAMI through a friend in Southern California, whose daughter showed early symptoms of bipolar disorder. Another mom spotted a flyer at a hospital kiosk, while the compassion of church members steered another family to NAMI.
For John and Gini Mitchem, long-time NAMI advocates and instructors of the family-to-family class, a psychiatrist helping their daughter said, “Get Dr. E. Fuller Torrey’s book Surviving Schizophrenia and reach out to NAMI.” After that, the Mitchem’s “jumped in with both feet.”
From Seeker to Advocate
NAMI has operated as a beacon. A steady light for families and consumers desperate for advice and help when a mental health crisis strikes a loved one. That’s how most NAMI relationships begin. And then, after the flash point, advocacy often follows.
Harold Brown understands this well. His family has a history of severe depression and suicide. When his daughter – balancing motherhood and an onslaught of demands at a top tech company – experienced “treatment resistant depression,” he dove right in to help. The illness had slammed her, resulting in five hospitalizations over thirty months. “I thought I knew everything about mental illness when a therapist at El Camino Hospital suggested my wife and I take NAMI’s family-to-family class.” His daughter began to recover and Harold discovered the comradery of the NAMI family. His advocacy was sparked, and now leads the non-profit’s funding efforts on the NAMI-SCC board.
Victor Ojakian arrived at NAMI’s doorstep after tragedy had already struck. Vic lost his son to suicide while at college. He turned his grief into advocacy. “My wife and I step-by-step asked each of the California public college/university systems to provide better mental health services for their students. This work took some cajoling.” When the couple turned their attention closer to home, developing countywide suicide prevention plans and working on California and regional legislation NAMI didn’t disappoint. The non-profit’s supported Victor, and his relationship with the organization grew. Victor became a board member and serves as co-president of the Santa Clara Affiliate.
For Uday Kapoor the sudden shut down of his son’s board and care home became an immediate crisis. His son and 70 other residents were about to become homeless. Uday’s son has a dual diagnosis, severe mental illness and developmental disabilities due to Autism. During one of the housing meeting, Uday meet Navah, who suggested Uday attend a NAMI Board Meeting. Uday then took the family-to-family class and meet former NAMI Executive Director Kathy Forward. From there his involvement grew as did his determination to push Santa Clara County officials to increase support housing for the mentally ill. With NAMI’s wind at his sails, Uday made significant inroads with county officials and legislators and became a NAMI-SCC board member.
Beverly Lozoff didn’t come to NAMI for crisis help. Her road to the nonprofit started out of concern over the potential loss of Santa Clara County’s safety net services. The economic downturn of 2008 required major cuts to all areas of the county budget. Mental health services and programs were in jeopardy. One of the panelists, a NAMI-SCC member, discussed her son’s mental health care at Valley Medical Center. This peaked Beverly’s interest in the organization. She visited the office and soon after became a member and volunteer. Today, she is co-president of the Board of Directors. “Given a family history of depression and anxiety, including my own, I felt connected to NAMI,” Bev said. When one of her sisters became unstable, the NAMI family rallied behind Bev throughout the ordeal. She saw firsthand the nonprofit’s significance.
For Juan Perez, confusion reigned, after his son became sick. His son caught in the “revolving-door syndrome” of multiple hospitalizations, doctors and diagnoses. Juan said, “The situation kept getting worse before it got better.” Medical bills piled up. Family and friends became distant. Worse still, when his son turned 18, HIPPA kicked in and Juan and his wife were locked out of their son’s care unless he consented. The family hit a breaking point. Then Juan heard about NAMI. The couple took the family-to-family class. The education proved pivotal. Juan and his wife learned and embraced how to support their son. As Juan’s positivity grew so did his son’s, who wanted to understand his illness. He took the NAMI Peer-to-Peer class. Today not only is Juan an active NAMI board member. Juan’s son has become a Peer-to-Peer mentor.
NAMI’s mission has never wavered, and its reach has never been stronger. NAMI will keep that porchlight aglow no matter how you find your way.