Community Conversations

Community Conversations: National Alliance on Mental Illness


Champaign County’s National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) chapter meets the second Monday of each month, 6:30-9PM at Community Elements, 202 W. Park St., Champaign, Ill.

In a special meeting, the group talked with Illinois Public Media’s Sean Powers and Lindsey Moon about the challenges they face and the need for more resources to treat mental illness and raise awareness. Every month, Illinois Public Media organizes or participates in other organizations’ 'community conversations.' WILL engages in these conversations in an effort to better inform our own news coverage.

Around 20 men and women who are a part of Champaign County’s chapter of NAMI talked with us on Thursday evening about the stigma that keeps many who suffer from or have a loved one who suffers from mental illness isolated.

According to the members of the group, there is an unmet need for support groups and health services for those suffering from disorders ranging from bipolar disorder to anxiety to schizoaffective disorder in east central Illinois. One woman who works in health care mentioned that in Champaign County, as well as Vermillion County, said there is nearly a six month wait for the insured to get in to see a psychiatrist. She adds that many people who suffer mental illness are uninsured and are in desperate need for treatment during the first 6 months after a psychotic break.

One woman talked about her son who has schizophrenia. She said it’s important for the media, and for people who consume media, to be aware that not all people who are mentally ill are “scary and dangerous.”

“I think my son is a hero,” she said. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be inside his head all day.

NAMI, she said, offers free classes for those who want to understand more about mental health. When she first joined the group, her son had been recently diagnosed, and she said the group was a godsend in helping her understand what it was like to be in her son’s shoes. Many who were there agreed that they hope someday people with mental illness won’t automatically be labeled as problems, but rather as people.  

One man who was headed to a training conference this past weekend to start a support group for those who suffer from a disorder said that he understands why the stigma exists.

“If I didn’t have a leg, I wouldn’t need to explain anything,” he said. “But I do have a leg, and my problems take a lot of explaining.”

He expressed his desire for the community to see him as more than just his diagnosis. His wife, who is also diagnosed with mental illness, is an artist, and he hopes for a day when she can be an artist first.

Several people spoke up about the fear that makes it hard to talk about their diagnoses. One woman, who is on disability because of her diagnosis, said she avoids talking about the reason she’s on disability because it has been a problem in finding an apartment in the past.
“It scares landlords,” she said.

The group was excited to announce that the NAMI chapter affiliated with the University of Illinois’ campus in Champaign-Urbana would be starting back up this year.

“It will be wonderful to have that presence on campus,” said NAMI President Diane Zell.

There is an upcoming awareness walk to support those who suffer from mental illness. The Family Awareness and Fundraising Walk is scheduled for Oct. 13 at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana.