NAMI-BI helping those in need during these challenging times

Thu, 11/19/2020 - 5:45pm
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As the holiday season approaches and the island begins to slow down, while being in an ongoing pandemic, increased concerns have been raised about mental health and wellness issues here on the island. Nationally, there has been an increase of mental health cases relating to depression, domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicide.

“Anything that goes on on the mainland, goes on the island. We have the same issues for mental health that other communities face in this country,” said NAMI-BI President Jim Hinthorn in a recent discussion with The Block Island Times.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness-Block Island, or NAMI-BI, is an affiliate of the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for millions of Americans affected by mental illness. The affiliate on Block Island “works to ensure that every person on Block Island has access to the services they need and is surrounded by a community that cares” according to a fundraising letter the NAMI Board issued this fall.

Last February, NAMI-BI was officially certified by the national organization as an affiliate.

“This organization — they get things done. They make a difference in the community,” said Vice President Kristin Baumann. 

Baumann shared her thoughts on the organization’s goals in addressing mental health and wellness in a small community.

“One of our major focuses is that there’s no stigma and no shame. Everyone needs help. There is no shame. We offer resources if you need the help. We are all in this together. When people see something, they have to say something,” said Baumann. “It can be difficult to do this. But if people don’t come forward and don’t address the issues, there’s not much that we can do. With community, we can do it in a place like this — a community response to mental illness issues.”

Hinthorn and Director Socha Cohen noted that the NAMI-BI chapter supports and follows three key “building blocks” in their mission.

“Advocate, educate, and support,” said Hinthorn.

“We educate people on what mental health issues are, advocate for services on island, and we offer support for families who have members with mental illness,” added Cohen. NAMI-BI has advocated for services on the island, including telemedicine services, and has offered support for in-person family sessions. Educational opportunities have also been offered through conferences, online postings, online Tedx Talks, and training sessions on the island.

When Covid-19 hit the island, the organization had to cancel a large majority of its programs: monthly in-person family support group sessions, the summer programs at the Island Free Library, the May mental health conference, and the August Fun Run event with the Block Island Medical Center.

But the board members pointed out in the recent letter what resources and services are currently in place during Covid-19.

“However, we are regularly providing information via the Block Island Bulletin Board on mental health resources available locally, state-wide, and nationally. [We] also distributed an informational postcard which was sent to all Block Island Post Office box holders and given to the Police Department for appropriate use. Online education programs from NAMI are abundant and we have encouraged our citizens to access these programs. One of our major accomplishments in the past year was to make telepsych services available to children and adolescents, a program that previously was only available to our adult population (18 years or older).”

Cohen also pointed out a crucial reminder on behalf of the NAMI-BI chapter: the organization is not a provider of services.

“[NAMI BI] is not a provider, we are a resource. NAMI doesn’t provide services, but tells where to access the services,” said Cohen.

Cohen. Hinthorn expressed concern with the community having a role to play as well in addressing and tackling mental health issues and stigmas. While NAMI-BI can offer and direct assistance to services and resources, the discussion about these issues should take place on the community level, said Hinthorn.

“There needs to be a community response to mental health issues,” said Hinthorn. “Isolation in general in the winter time, not just for the senior population — that isolation is the bedrock here. Everybody is impacted; the nation as a whole is suffering from depression. We each have to do our part at the community level to bring us back,” added Hinthorn.

To learn more about the NAMI-BI affiliate visit blockislandmentalhealth.org.

NAMI-BI can be found on Instagram as @namiblockisland.

Announcements and messages from NAMI-BI are also posted to the Block Island Bulletin Board.