Some battles that are fought on a daily basis go unseen and unheard by nearly anyone, only experienced by the person fighting them. They can be lonely, scary, dark. Help can be difficult, and sometimes impossible, to reach out for. Mental health is an important facet of overall health, and mental illnesses should be treated just like a physical illness — with compassion, patience, love, and competence. NAMI – Dane County works to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, which is a vitally important task. I had the chance to chat with Kaitlyn Mellom, NAMI – Dane County’s Program Coordinator, who answered a few questions to elaborate on what it is they do!

Tell me about the history and mission of NAMI-Dane County.

One cool fact about NAMI Dane County is that it is actually the founding chapter of The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. What started as a few parents banding together to share resources for their kids with mental health difficulties over a kitchen table in 1977 has blossomed into a nationwide organization with over 900 affiliates. Today, NAMI Dane County strives to provide education, support, and advocacy for those affected by mental illness. This is done through educational programs and support groups for those living with mental illness and their loved ones as well as taking part in advocating for mental health rights. 

What is one aspect of NAMI-Dane County’s work that might surprise people?

One aspect that always surprises the people I talk to is that all of our educational and support programs are cost free to those who attend them. We are able to keep them cost free because of the incredible work of our volunteer facilitators and teachers.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

The most rewarding part about our work is when we get the opportunity to hear just how beneficial our programs are for people who may feel like they are out of options. One of the greatest parts is when someone will go through an educational program and then reach out to us asking how to become a teacher for the course, that someone found the information so helpful and meaningful that they want to provide that same help to others. 

How can people get involved?

There are number of ways people can get involved, including helping with our annual NAMI Walk or banquet/gala, becoming a facilitator for our programs, or helping out with tasks in the office. These are just a few ways in which people can get involved and if anyone is interested in volunteering with NAMI Dane County, there is an application on our website.

Any fun facts/important tidbits that people don’t generally know about NAMI or the issues with which NAMI works?

We’re so grateful for the members of our community and our volunteers who help us continue our mission every day.