During the last week of June 2018, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) held their annual national convention. This year it was held in New Orleans, Louisiana. There were nearly 1,700 total attendees with representation from every state, including Puerto Rico. Half of the attendees at the convention were first-timers. The theme of the convention was, “Live, Learn, Share, Hope”. Each of these themes resonated with me in a different way:
The theme “Live” makes me think about how I need to live my life to its fullest. The phrase, “Live each day like it’s your last” came to mind. I have become more mindful in the past few years. To some, “mindfulness” may just seem like a buzz word. To me, being mindful and living in the moment is critical in order to be fully present. I now naturally catch myself when my mind is wandering and pull myself back into the present. This is important because much of our mind wandering has been shown to be negative. One study found approximately 80% of mind wandering to fall into that category. A recent example of mine was when I was playing a board game with three of my kids. I caught myself starting to think about work and things I needed to accomplish around the house. I quickly stopped those thoughts and intentionally focused on my kids and the game we were playing. Of course, everybody’s “fullest” will look different, and that’s okay. Regardless, if we want to live our lives more deeply, learning to be present will always be part of that formula.
Much of the NAMI national conference is about learning. I learned about some of the policy and advocacy work that NAMI is doing at the national level. As the nations largest grassroots mental health organization, NAMI has done an extraordinary amount of work in shaping the national public policy in an effort to support both those living with a mental illness and their family members. NAMI has also educated hundreds of thousands of people giving them information and the resources they need in order to support themselves or others.
In addition to learning more about NAMI, I learned about the difficulties and opportunities in mental health research faced by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). I was able to learn more about new medications, new therapies, and how to become a better advocate. I learned more about the unique challenges faced by people of color who are living with a mental illness. The learning opportunities at the convention were endless!
Sharing is about connecting with others. I was able to connect with so many dynamic, caring people at the convention. People were open to sharing their own personal experiences of living with a mental illness. Others shared about supporting a loved one with a mental illness. People shared how they advocate for more awareness and better policies around mental illness. Many were there to share their valuable resources. This sharing “culture” was one that allowed for people to connect and learn from one another in a very authentic, caring way.
Hope permeated the NAMI convention. Hearing many stories of those living with a mental illness who have made incredible strides, such as Jeff Fink, Lauren Burke, and Lloyd Hale from the movie, “Beyond Silence”. Each of them overcame inconceivable challenges of living with a mental illness. Learning from others about how they live incredibly meaningful lives full of contentment while managing their mental illness created an immense feeling of hope.
In the end, this convention was both inspiring and educational. It allowed people from all walks of life to connect with one another and to learn from one another. NAMI is an organization that provides a wealth of resources and information to so many. I would urge anybody who has any interest in mental illness to attend a NAMI national, or even state, convention.