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Graphic courtesy of: United Appeal


Recovered Vietnam veteran Jim McGarrity, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, speaks in a NAMI lecture series.

Photo courtesy of: NAMI Athens


Frances Strickland, the former First Lady of Ohio, and Sandy Stephenson, the former director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health, participate in a Memorial Day ceremony on the Ridges.

Photo courtesy of: NAMI Athens

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United Appeal spotlight: NAMI Athens sheds light on mental illness while restoring Ridges Cemeteries

Between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, the Ohio University community is participating in United Appeal's "United 2 Give, United 2 Help" fundraising campaign. Through this editorial series, Compass seeks to highlight some of the community agencies that will benefit from OHIO's giving.  

When members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) walk between the gravestones at the Ridges Cemeteries, they aren't looking for spooky thrills. Instead, the organization works to restore and beautify the cemeteries, dispelling myths about mental illness while restoring respect to the nearly 2,000 former mental health patients buried there.

With chapters throughout the United States, NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Although NAMI Athens is one of the smaller organizations, families across southeast Ohio are touched by its work: advocating for and promoting the recovery of people with mental illness.

In addition to its work with the mentally ill, NAMI Athens provides information and support to friends and families of people with mental illness. Likewise, the police-training course, Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), teaches officers throughout the region how to handle emergency situations involving the mentally ill.

NAMI is one of the 19 organizations receiving aid from this year's United Appeal campaign, which has served the less fortunate of Athens County for 57 years. Long-term member of NAMI Athens Tom Walker recently spoke with Compass about the organization, its work and its first year partnership with United Appeal.

What services does NAMI Athens provide?

Walker: We offer all three (of NAMI's) flagship courses … a course for persons having adult loved ones with mental illness, parents with children with mental illness and a course for and taught by people in recovery. Those courses are very important in helping people dealing with mental illness, helping them help themselves or their loved ones.

How does the organization connect with the community?

Walker: Because of stigma, there's very little communication among people about having a mentally ill loved one. We can't get to people through word of mouth; we have to get to them by advertising in the newspapers, and that costs money. So that is one of our challenges.

How does NAMI work with the University?

Walker: The Ohio University Police Department is very involved in our Crisis Intervention Training. Most of their officers are CIT trained. That training is marvelous because it … prevents an escalating situation that could become dangerous. …We've had spectacular, successful cases.

How would donations from United Appeal help the organization?

Walker: If we had more money we could do another conference, we could certainly bring in people from further away for our lectures and we would continue to fund Crisis Intervention Training. …The more money we have, the more we can do.

United Appeal's "United 2 Give, United 2 Help" fundraising campaign runs through Dec. 24. For more information, visit http://www.unitedappeal.org/