Whatever it takes: Open discussions about mental health issues

Robin C. Payne; photo courtesy of Payne

Editor’s note: For our fall Nonprofit issue, we invited local nonprofit leaders to reflect on the successes and challenges of operating a 501(c)(3) in Western North Carolina. 

Robin C. Payne is the executive director of NAMI Western Carolina. The nonprofit offers no-cost mental health services.

Xpress: What roles does NAMI play in how our community handles mental health issues?

Payne: NAMI Western Carolina provides advocacy, education, support and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives. NAMI is a national leader in providing mental health resources, information and support. We are fortunate to serve as the affiliate for our region and serve as this resource for our community. We also serve on several mental health and crisis committees in the community and work with our partners to ensure the voices of those impacted by mental health are being heard.

One of your organization’s areas of strategic focus has been to increase program participation of marginalized communities. How are you approaching that?

Mental health challenges impact all demographics and each of these has their own cultural way of addressing them. As such, we are careful not to assume we know what is best for a community. Instead, we try to create opportunities for open discussions and see how we can provide the resources that are needed.

Currently, we are offering the NAMI family support groups in Spanish in partnership with UNETE in the Emma community. We seek to provide support groups and classes in locations where peers and their families are already gathering and reduce the stigma that often comes with addressing mental health challenges in communities of color.

Talk a little about NAMI’s part in crisis intervention team training for law enforcement and first responders.

NAMI provides peers and family members who speak to officers and first responders about needing specialized attention and care during a medical emergency. These members encourage officers and first responders to ask questions and approach each situation with the care and concern they would want for a loved one in the same circumstance.

What program or initiative is the most in demand, and what do participants get out of it?

We have seen a growing need for those seeking support around suicide loss. Survivors may feel guilty, ashamed or responsible in a society that often places a stigma on suicide. We offer an eight-week class where loved ones learn tools to cope with the loss in a supportive environment. Participants have formed a tightknit support and are being trained to serve as co-facilitators for new classes.


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