Pictured, left to right: Andrew Guffey, Patti Ford, Doug Ford, Nelda West, Margie Annis, Paul Theis, and Suzanne Theis.
NAMI Centre members attended the NAMI Alabama Leadership Conference in Opelika in late February. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is the largest grassroots organization in the US that is dedicated to serving the families of those who are faced with the challenges of mental illness. Statistics show that one in four people are faced with mental health issues. NAMI is designed to support those people and to educate and aid our communities in understanding and managing life with mental illness.
Seven members of the NAMI Centre affiliation met with other affiliate members from across the state to take care of business for the state and local affiliations and to engage in programs relative to the issues facing the mental health stakeholders. NAMI works not only with families and individuals dealing with mental health issues. In addition, NAMI works closely with the Cherokee, Etowah, and DeKalb Counties Community Mental Health Centers under the direction of Shelia Hurley, The Cherokee County Commission, and Probate Judge Tim Burgess, and Sheriff Jeff Shaver and Cherokee County law enforcement systems. Kim Hammock, Director of Mental Illness Community Programs of the Alabama Department of Mental Health, and two community mental health organizations directors discussed how the local state mental health centers work and the importance of their relationship with NAMI and vice versa.
Another important discussion was peer leadership — that is, the role that people who suffer a mental illness have in helping others who have a mental illness. Peer specialists are crucial in mental health centers, jails, and hospitals in helping people who are most vulnerable and may be in crisis. Peer specialists are an important part of the future of NAMI and community mental health in general.
The dominant issue examined at this leadership conference was suicide prevention. National experts presented the results of many national and international, as well as our state, research projects and designs for moving Alabama and the US forward in helping to reduce the suicide rates. Since the year 2000, suicide rates were increasing at 35 percent annually until 2019. Since then the rates have been declining, though only slightly for Alabama. Suicide prevention over the past few years has been brought into focus on the national and state level, along with mental health in general. Celebrity awareness and decisions to protect their mental health over their performance has raised awareness of the importance of protecting our mental health and helping those who need help, proactively.
The most important issue at the conference and in our communities is what to do with someone experiencing a mental health crisis. Most people who experience a crisis of the brain end up either in jail or a hospital emergency room, neither of which is equipped or staffed with personnel who are trained for this type of crisis. An effective tool designed by Sam Cochran, a Memphis, Tennessee lawman, and developed by NAMI and, by the way, is implemented by Cherokee County Sheriff Jeff Shaver, is CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) training. CIT is used to de-escalate the crisis situation involving a mentally ill person in a crisis moment, hopefully avoiding extreme action or even death.
The state of Alabama is moving closer to fully implementing CIT training as part of law enforcement training. NAMI Centre began in 2010 under the leadership of Sue Guffey, affectionately spoken of as Suenami, for her passion for community-wide support for people and families and institutions dealing with mental health issues. Sue was instrumental in bringing CIT training to the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office when Sheriff Shaver agreed too allow Investigator Tony Monroy to attend the 40 hour course. Now the goal of the sheriff is to bring the staff of deputies to one hundred peer cent CIT trained.
Attending the meeting and representing NAMI Centre: Andrew Guffey, vice-president, Doug Ford, secretary, Nelda West, treasurer, Margie Annis, Patti Ford, Paul Theis, and Suzanne Theis.
If you or someone you know is interested in the efforts of NAMI Centre, or if you need more information about NAMI, or if you need help with mental health issues, call any the following: Tony Monroy NAMI Centre president - 256-557-5466, CED Community Mental Health Center - 256-927-3601, Doug Ford - 256-613-0329, Margie Annis - 256-254-0205, 911, and coming July - 988 (the new emergency phone number especially for mental health and suicide prevention).
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255, or Crisis Textline - TALK to 741741.
NAMI Centre meets every third Monday at 6:00 PM at the First Baptist Church ROC out on the Chestnut Bypass.