Berkshire NAMI to Celebrate 39 Years of Mental Health Support
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The National Alliance on Mental Illness is celebrating 39 years of providing mental health resources to Berkshire County.
The non-profit organization will mark the anniversary on Sept. 19 with an annual meeting and awards dinner at Proprietor's Lodge from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
The evening will feature dinner, live music, games, and special guest Ken Duckworth, the chief medical officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and author of "You Are Not Alone."
"This is an annual event that we hold which recognizes mental health professionals or individuals within the community who are doing outstanding work to support mental health needs," Berkshire County Executive Director Melissa Helm said.
The national organization's goal is to improve the lives of people with mental illness through support, education, and advocacy.
Helm said Berkshire County chapter has undergone substantial growth in the last couple of years. She took office in November 2021 as the first full-time executive director.
"Having that switch from really our capacity for time and resources to serve the community has been huge for us," she said.
"We've been able to double our operating budget from the one I started with, so from 2021 to 2022, and continue to grow it this year in 2023, which has allowed us to introduce new youth mental health programming."
The organization has been running new partnerships with the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in which it brings high school-aged youth in for a mental health retreat day.
"So just giving them some time and space to really explore what works for them as far as positive self-care practices," Helm said. "And that's something completely new to us. We hadn't worked within the school districts before. It's a big passion project of mine."
She pointed out that 50 percent of lifetime mental health conditions present themselves around this age and that 75 percent present by the age of 24.
"We're really hitting a prime time when we're serving those youth in high school who might just be getting ready to go off into college or take that next step in their adult lives, whatever that might look like," she added.
"And just making sure that they have the tools to best take care of themselves."
The organization has also grown its support groups, which have been run since its inception but were historically only support groups for family members, caregivers, and loved ones of a person living with a mental illness. Last year, peer support groups were introduced for people living with mental health conditions.
Helm pointed out that all of NAMI's programming is free and available to anyone who needs it.
"We're just continuing to explore the needs in the community and how we can help to meet those needs," she said.
"Specifically something that we'll be talking about at this year's annual meeting is the progress being made towards crisis intervention training for police and first-responders and the new partnership with South Hadley Police Department, who we will be working closely with, and also the introduction of a new crisis intervention partners program that coincides with crisis intervention training."
The goal of the crisis intervention partners program is to help other frontline professional organizations outside of, and including, first responders and law enforcement be able to better recognize a mental health crisis and the steps that they can take to help that individual in the moment and resources that can be used outside of just calling the police.
Helm also spoke to the landscape of mental health care coming out of the pandemic.
"It's a challenging time to be in mental health care. It's not unique to the Berkshires but certainly a challenge here that we don't have enough mental health providers to go around," she said.
"I think that's a twofold result both of the pandemic exacerbating mental health conditions and also sort of the stigma being chipped away at. People are more open to talk about their experiences than they were in the past and just sort of more aware of what might be going on with them so that's a really good thing that people are having more of an openness to seek help."
As a community organization, NAMI is working to help create additional support for people who are on a waitlist for therapy or at any stage in their mental health journey.
NAMI is seeking nominations for two award categories: the Eunice E. Zorbo Citizen of the Year Award and the Silver Ribbon Award.
The Zorbo Award recognizes someone who has shown an understanding of mental illnesses and advocates for improvement in the treatment of those who live with mental illnesses and their caregivers and the Silver Ribbon Award recognizes an outstanding advocate in the mental health field.
The event, sponsored by Berkshire Bank, will also include a meet and greet and book signing with Duckworth.
Tickets are on sale for $35 while supplies last at namibc.org.