National Alliance on Mental Illness
Volunteers provide hope for those with mental health struggles
By Chris Michlewicz
A small army of volunteers from Douglas and Arapahoe counties is helping those with mental health struggles find hope during uncertain times.
Volunteers for the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness — or NAMI — not only find the work fulfilling, but find that their assistance is more critical now than ever. Isolation, job loss and health fears associated with the pandemic, among other causes, have turned NAMI’s services into a lifeline for those with a mental illness diagnosis, said Jean Spahr, a Castle Rock resident who has spent the last two-plus years volunteering her time as a volunteer coordinator for NAMI.
Spahr, in fact, was battling severe depression and discovered NAMI through a presentation given by two women who spoke about the nonprofit’s effect on their own lives. “They were very impressive to me because they offered hope,” she said.
Spahr was inspired to seek help and found the experience at NAMI so impactful, she decided to help others find the support they needed, too. She’d already spent much of her life connecting people with life-changing organizations, working in career services centers to help college students secure internships.
NAMI volunteers can serve as community advocates by representing NAMI at health fairs and fundraising events, or they can make presentations to student or parent groups, help advertise support groups and educational programs, or facilitate group discussions.
“We like to take the opportunity to find out what a volunteer’s interest is, find something that speaks to them,” said Spahr, who adds that volunteers decide how much time they want to commit to the organization each week or month.
In her volunteer work for NAMI and two other local nonprofits, Spahr herself has found a renewed sense of purpose.
“Helping other people helps the person who’s doing the helping,” said Spahr, who oversees between 25 and 50 active volunteers at any given time.
NAMI also offers resources to loved ones of people with a mental health condition so they can better understand what’s happening and how to support their friend or family member.
For volunteers, Family to Family is an eight-week course that equips them with the know-how to facilitate a group discussion among family and friends of those who are struggling. Chances of recovery are vastly greater when people have an engaged and informed support system, Spahr said.
Ridding the world of the stigma associated with mental illness is a top priority for groups like NAMI, which is partly why Spahr readily shares her own story of struggle and perseverance.
“If you break your leg, people are not afraid to talk about it, but if you have a bout of mental illness, people used to be afraid to talk about it,” she said. “We’re trying to normalize the fact that people have ups and downs, and it doesn’t mean it’s permanent.”
The pandemic has forced much of the volunteer work online, but NAMI has plenty of opportunities for those who want to contribute their time. For more information, visit www.NAMIadco.org.