The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. Through education, support and advocacy, NAMI fights to confront stigmas in regard to mental illness.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness affiliate in Burlington County has been around since the mid 1980s, and like all of the county affiliates in New Jersey, it continues the original mission that was started by the first members of NAMI.
NAMI Burlington County volunteer Ruth Heald believes the most important thing when dealing with mental illness is education. Whether the person is a caretaker, a family member or the actual person needing help, it is important to get information about the situation to be able to handle it.
“It’s a disease of the brain just like any other disease,” said Heald. “The difference is that it doesn’t necessarily have any symptoms like if something is hurting. People grapple with trying to put a finger on it, so it can be quite difficult. You can’t go to the doctor and say you have a broken arm or you had a heart attack and then they’ll know, step-by-step, how to treat you.”
Heald believes a brain disease should be treated like any other disease. For an example, Heald states that a brain disease should be looked at as the same as diabetes in terms of parity between physical and mental illness.
“They’re different, but legally should be treated the same,” said Heald. “There’s a stigma in mental illness that comes from not understanding what’s going on in a brian. That’s why the education part helps.”
Through advocacy and participating with the government and local police organizations, NAMI has been able to spread its knowledge in important places. The presentations with local police departments have given the officers the ability to know how to diffuse a situation and how to talk to someone dealing with a mental illness.
NAMI Burlington County also holds various support meetings. The NAMI Burlington Support Group Meeting is held every second and third Mondays of the month between 7 and 9 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Moorestown. NAMI Connection Peer Support Group is held on the first and third Mondays of each month between 7 and 8:30 p.m. at the Virtua Memorial Hospital located in Mt. Holly.
NAMI also holds youth and high school programs, as well as a 12-week family-to-family education course. This program allows family members and caretakers to come together to learn and share things they may have in common.
“The most important thing is to know is that you’re not alone,” said Heald. “You have support and resources here. I would say just get in touch with us and come to our support meetings and we’ll take it from there.”
For more information about the group meetings, or for residents who want to get involved, go to NAMI’s website at Naminj.org/support/affiliates/burlington/ or visit its office in Moorestown located at 16 E. Main St., Suite 5.