Free programs for mentally ill: NAMI Walk Saturday at Beach Promenade
Published:  April 29, 2016

When it comes to where she’ll be Saturday a Santa Paula woman knows she will be at the beach...not sunbathing or swimming but rather walking with family members and friends in support of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

The April 30 12th Annual NAMI Walk at the Ventura Beach Promenade will start at 10 a.m. 

NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI offers educational and support programs to ensure that hundreds of thousands of individuals, their families and educators get the support and information they need.

The goal of NAMI is to successfully combat stigma and encourage understanding as well as other services.

David Deutsch, NAMI executive director, said the annual 5k walk “Helps people become aware of just how many people,” have a mental illness. “It raises awareness of how common and how prevalent it is…there are not many that have not been impacted,” in some way by mental illness of a friend or loved one. 

Among its programs is NAMI Connection, a recovery support group program for adults living with mental illness. These groups provide a place that offers respect, understanding, encouragement and hope.

NAMI Connection groups offer a casual and relaxed approach to sharing the challenges and successes of coping with mental illness.

For the Santa Paula woman it is the Care & Share Family Support Group that helped her cope with the onset of mental illness when her son — who had increasingly started to act erratically — had a breakdown, was arrested and finally was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“I’m ashamed that I don’t want my name used,” she confessed, “but it’s been too painful…although it became much better once the family became involved in NAMI’s program.”

According to the NAMI website, “Care & Share Family Support Groups provide support, education, advocacy and information to family members and friends of those suffering with severe mental illness.”

Each person has an opportunity, “if they wish, to share their current situation with the group. Since everyone attending has or is going through similar issues, everyone can offer understanding and comfort. Often group members are able to offer helpful ideas, suggestions and resources.”

“It just helps to sit there with people who have gone — or are going —through the same thing,” said the Santa Paula resident. “You realize you’re not the only one.”

Although mental illness has no particular demographic or income level there are some commonalities among the families and friends that must deal with a suffering loved one.

“We all hurt, we’re all bewildered at first, we’re all feeling a little guilty that we should have done more or done something sooner, that maybe we didn’t see it or wish to see it. That we let it go on too long so it became a situation that spun out of control…”

What makes the NAMI Care & Share Family Support Group unique is that each group is coordinated by a trained support group facilitator who is also the family member of a person living with serious mental illness, someone “Who hasn’t just read about it but lived it,” said the Santa Paula woman.

Mental illness is not uncommon: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 20 percent of adults in America experiences a mental illness (which can be a mild depression) and nearly one in 25 adults in America lives with a serious mental illness that can be diagnosed as severe schizophrenia. All of NAMI’s classes and support are at no charge.

If you can’t walk the walk for NAMI yourself you are welcome to donate to the organization whose walkers each year feature not only families and friends of those with mental illness but those supporters that believe in the NAMI mission.

“We have a number of people with different backgrounds and agencies,” ranging from elected and law enforcement officials as well as other groups dealing with the mentally ill, such as Turning Point Foundation and Project Understanding that Deutsch said take part in the annual event.

The Ventura County Crisis Intervention Team — police officers trained to work with the mentally ill — is well represented including SPPD Sgt. Scott Varner.

“It’s a great mix of people that send I think a statement that we’re unified together to try to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental illness in our community…and,” added Deutsch, “it’s a lot of fun! It’s really an enjoyable event,” with a dance group and live music among other entertainment. 

“Some people at the NAMI Walk only see each other once a year at the walk, everyone is so busy. And, of course, from a fundraiser point of view there’s never a charge for NAMI services and this allows us to provide those services,” ranging from group support to school presentations.

With the time coming up for the walk Deutsch said the turnout is growing rapidly, typical of such events. He expects the turnout will be larger than last year’s 1,200 supporters.

“And people can still come and signup there, we’d never want anybody think they cannot take part in the NAMI Walk.”

Walkers, team captains or volunteers can also register online as can “virtual walkers” or those who would just like to offer a donation…visit 

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