Volunteer Laurie Shay

NAMI: Offering the Beaufort community access to needed programs and education about mental illness

By Wendy Nilsen Pollitzer

There are fifteen beds on the mental health floor at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. During any given week, the floor is full with no prejudice given to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, active duty or veteran status. Group sessions hold an audience that defines the word “diverse,” which accentuates the fact that mental illness affects everyone.

Volunteer Laurie Shay
Volunteer Laurie Shay

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness, which includes major depression, major anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia.

We are fortunate to have the 2012 National NAMI affiliate of the year right here in Beaufort County, and they are champions at advocating for access to services, treatment, support and research as well as raise awareness to build a community for hope for all those in need.

The local NAMI chapter provides programs of support for people with mental illness and their families, always without charge. Additionally, NAMI provides one-on-one support for anyone in crisis, referrals to community resources including crisis and long-term counseling and apartments in Hilton Head and Beaufort. One of these programs is NAMI’s evidence based Family-to-Family Education Program beginning Saturday, January 10th. Family-to-Family is a free 12-session education program for family caregivers of adults living with mental illness. It will be held Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. until 12 Noon at Harrington Place, 1211 Harrington Street in Beaufort. The course provides a broad perspective that will help parents, spouses, siblings and adult children better understand and support loved ones living with  mental illness.

Laurie Shay has volunteered for NAMI since the winter of 2013.  She is a facilitator for two support groups, called Connections, a mentor for the Peer-to-Peer program and a speaker for the In Our Own Voice presentation.  She recently joined the Board of the local affiliation.

“I chose to volunteer for NAMI because I believe in their cause.  Educating people about mental illness is key to the recovery of the mentally ill.  Without a proper support system including, but not limited to caregivers, doctors, therapists, teachers, and clergy, recovery is hopeless.  NAMI ‘s programs help to facilitate the development of the network necessary for the mentally ill to reach and maintain stability in their daily living,” explains Shay.

Shay has suffered with mental illness since she was a teenager. She is now 53.  Her diagnosis is Bipolar Type 2. Although her treatment has been sporadic, through years of perseverance, ongoing counseling and medication, she has obtained stability in her life.

“Traversing the mental health system wasn’t easy, but worth the effort,” says Shay.

“Finding the services necessary for treatment of the mentally ill individual can be a taunting task. It takes a core group of people to overcome the obstacles. Finding a good doctor and therapist, and educating the mentally ill individual along with their caregivers is paramount to treatment.  This process can be expensive, frustrating, and demeaning because of the pervasive stigma toward mental illness, but with persistence, recovery is possible,” she adds.

NAMI has become the nation’s voice on mental illness with NAMI organizations in every state and in over 1,100 local communities across the country who join together to meet the NAMI mission.

“Treatment of mental illness as a disease and not some curse or fictitious ailment requires us to remove the fear around mental illness through educating people.  That is what NAMI is all about,” explains Shay.

For more information or to register for the Family-to-Family Education Program, please contact Sarah Eliasoph, Executive Director, at nami@hargray.com or by calling (843) 681-2200. For more information about NAMI’s mission and programs, please visit www.nami.org.

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