Good Deeds: Spotlight on NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Howard County boasts a long list of nonprofit organizations and charitable agencies, so we’ve decided to highlight what they are, what they do and how you can help. And since May is Mental HealthMonth, Howard Magazine chose NAMI of Howard County to highlight in this issue.

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.

 Name: NAMI
(National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Who: Susan Helsel, executive director

Q: What is your mission?

A: The mission of NAMI Howard County is to improve the lives of individuals and families living with mental illness through education, advocacy and support and to increase awareness of mental illness throughout the community.

 Q: How many volunteers are part of your organization?

A: NAMI exists because of its volunteers. Currently  there are 75 people who volunteer for NAMI Howard County.

Q: How many staff members? What are their titles and responsibilities?

A: NAMI Howard County has four part-time staff members. I’m the executive director; Steve Gray is the director of programs and development; Melissa Carr is the coordinator of recovery programs; and Chris Schaffer is our office administrator.

Q: Do you provide training for your volunteers?

A: Yes, we do provide training for all of our volunteers who facilitate our support groups and teach our classes.

Q: How long has your organization been a part of our community?

A: NAMI has been in Howard County since 1979, 32 years.

Q: What are some of the support groups that NAMI offers? And what is their purpose/mission?

A: We have five support group meetings each month for family members of adults with a mental illness, including one group facilitated in Spanish; two support group meetings each month for parents of children with mental health issues; one weekly support group for adults who have a mental illness; and one biweekly support group for young adults (ages 18-29) who have a mental illness.

Equally important, NAMI offers an array of educational courses and presentations for people who have a mental illness, family members and the general public. The three signature education courses that NAMI offers in Howard County are: Family-to-Family: a 12-week course for family members, taught by family members

Peer-to-Peer: a 10-week recovery education course for adults who have a mental illness

NAMI Basics: a six-week course for parents and caregivers of children and teens who have mental health issues

Q: Is there a cost to participants/residents for your support groups and programs?

A: All of NAMI’s programs are free of charge and open to anyone regardless of membership in NAMI.

Q: What satisfaction is gained by you and your staff when progress and positive results
are recognized?

A: People who have a serious mental illness and their families often feel isolated, guilty and ashamed. The stigma of mental illness inhibits people from reaching out to family and friends for the care and support they and their loved ones need. It is hugely rewarding to give people the opportunity to talk about their own illness or that of a loved one to help them feel understood and less hopeless. It is also wonderful to be able to offer callers opportunities for a lifetime of support and education ...  at no cost, with no forms to fill out! 

NAMI teaches people who have an illness, their family, friends and community that mental illness is an illness just like any other, and, as such, it can be treated and recovery is possible. Often a call to NAMI is the first time that a person with an illness or a family member hears that message. As an example, below is an excerpt from an e-mail I received last week: “Thank you so much for your help yesterday. To find someone who feels my pain, has patience to listen to my story, and who will help me and my son for nothing is not a small thing. I look forward to taking advantage of all that you shared with me that NAMI has to offer both me and my son.”

Q: How does the word get out to the community of your services?

A: That is one of our greatest challenges. People are usually referred to us by a NAMI member, a mental health provider, a school guidance counselor or psychologist or a community agency. Sometimes they find us in a directory of community services or through an online search for mental health resources in Howard County.

Q: Do you provide help to all ages?

A: Yes, though most of our help to children is through helping their parents and teachers.

To contact NAMI Howard County:

9151 Rumsey Road, Suite 150
Columbia MD 21045

Help line: 410-772-9300


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