Members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation's largest grassroots organization on mental health, gathered in Madison for NAMI Wisconsin's annual state conference from April 26-27.
The conference featured internationally renowned speakers, including Dr. Patrick Corrigan, one of the nation's principal mental health stigma researchers, and Antonio Lambert, a national motivational speaker, peer specialist and health educator.
Participants attended breakout sessions on wide-ranging issues including: Veterans' mental health; mental illness and spirituality; "Ask the Expert" workshops on specific mental health disorders; legislative advocacy; and mental health in the criminal justice system.
Among the conference's over 300 participants were several members of NAMI Fond du Lac: Bev Gudex, Jennifer Wenger, Laura Rau, Anne Henry, Irene Hans and Diana Drew.
The conference's theme "Speak up! Change Minds!" - a call to stand up to the stigma of mental illness - resonates strongly with these NAMI members.
Adults' and children's mental health disorders are complex products of both biological and social factors, yet individuals living with these disorders and their families all suffer from stigma caused by misconceptions about mental illness.
For these NAMI Fond du Lac members and many other attendees, the conference was not only an educational and networking opportunity, but also a place to feel understood and accepted.
"This year's focus on reducing stigma is an important issue for those living with mental health disorders, as well as their caregivers," says Laura Rau, who with Anne Henry, teaches NAMI Basics, an educational program designed for and taught by parents and other caregivers of children and adolescents living with mental illness. "Unfortunately, many people believe that these disorders in children are simply bad behavior caused by bad parenting. As a result, caregivers often experience overwhelming blame and stigma."
NAMI Fond du Lac, along with people affected by mental illness statewide, look forward to next year's conference - just one of many forums that NAMI provides to increase understanding of mental illness, battle stigma and connect community members with valuable resources.
The mission of NAMI Fond du Lac is to provide advocacy at the local, state and national level; mutual support for family members and consumers; education for family members, consumers, mental health professionals and the community; information and referral; help to navigate the community mental health system.
To learn more about the programs NAMI Fond du Lac offers, please visit www.nami -fdl.org