Feature Stories

NAMI Dallas Educates Middle and High School Students on the Realities of Mental Illness

NAMI Dallas educates, advocates for and listens to those affected by mental illness.
NAMI Dallas educates, advocates for and listens to those affected by mental illness. iStock
Walking along the streets or standing in a room full of other people, those with a mental illness may be nearly impossible to distinguish. But one in five adults experiences a mental health condition every year, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is the largest grassroots mental health organization in the nation. Dedicated to bettering the lives of millions of Americans, NAMI has hundreds of affiliates around the country, including NAMI Dallas, that educate, advocate and listen to those affected by mental illness, according to the organization's website.

Every year, NAMI organizes walks to raise awareness and funds for people affected by mental illness. The 13th annual NAMI Dallas Walk was Saturday at Dr Pepper Park in Frisco, where it's been for two years.

“We have been welcomed with open arms by the folks up [at Dr Pepper Park],” says John Dornheim, walk manager. “It’s pretty much a mental health day at the ballpark.”

“The more we talk about it, the more we put it in the press, the better off we all are.” – Daphne Willis

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Through its education services, NAMI Dallas ensures hundreds of thousands of families get the information they need to reduce the stigma behind mental illness. The program Ending the Silence, for example, helps to inform students and educators.

ETS for students is a 50-minute presentation introducing middle and high school students to the realities of mental illness. Students learn about early signs of declining mental health, recovery and coping strategies. The program for educators helps teachers understand how to intervene when they see symptoms and how to communicate with caregivers.

NAMI also helps to shape national public policy. From 2014-17, Texas gained a substantial increase in funds for mental health, according to NAMI’s Public Policy Platform. However, a 2016 report found that Texas still ranked 45th among states in overall access to mental health care, 49th in mental health workforce availability and 43rd on inpatient beds. Through the legislative process in Texas, NAMI aims to combat these high numbers.

Last year, the honorary chair for the NAMI Walk was Texas Rangers radio announcer Eric Nadel. Through Nadel, Dornheim was able to get in touch with Nashville singer-songwriter Daphne Willis to schedule a performance at last year’s walk. After asking Dornheim if she could come back for this year’s walk, Willis was made the new honorary chair.

“A lot of what I write is about mental health awareness and addiction recovery,” Willis says. “Everybody I’ve ever talked to about mental health has been affected by these issues.”

Willis says she has clinical depression and has been in recovery for two years. She says events like this can act as eye-openers for others with mental illnesses to realize they are not alone. The more people talk about mental illnesses, the less they will be afraid of them.

“It becomes less of a vague monster,” Willis says. “The more we talk about it, the more we put it in the press, the better off we all are.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn