As stigmas surrounding mental illnesses linger, one NAU organization aims to help students any way it can. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) is a nationwide organization that helps individuals and families who face behavioral issues and mental illness.
The current NAU chapter of NAMI was started by a group of graduate students who sought to give support and resources to other students dealing with mental illness. This is achieved through education and conducting mental illness support groups.
Club president Joseph Aruguete joined NAMI to address and correct the gap in mental health services that NAU students have to deal with.
“The previous president had a deep passion for NAMI, and I fed off her energy,” Aruguete said. “I wanted to try to establish the organization permanently.”
Junior and Vice President Elizabeth Livingston joined the organization in her freshman year. Livingston said she joined because she knows several people who have mental illnesses and wanted to learn as much as she could about them.
“I am NAMI trained to run support groups, and I know more about how to help people,” Livingston said. “I will forever be learning more and more.”
Secretary Cameron Gaetz saw NAMI as a way to get more involved on campus and to gain experience. Gaetz said the organization is an effective way for students to make long-term connections with others who have similar struggles.
The organization aims to educate the public through a series of lectures that break down the stigmas surrounding mental illnesses and discuss what creates them. NAMI NAU works with Flagstaff NAMI, a larger division of the organization, to educate more people off campus. They have hosted lectures on the Navajo Reservation concerning suicide prevention, and plan to facilitate more on-campus events.
However, the group does not provide treatment or diagnose individuals in the way professionals would, nor should they be used in emergency situations.
“[Education] helps break down false images and misconceptions that students have,” Livingston said. “Reducing stigma is one of our highest priorities, because it can cause alienation and prevent people from seeking the help they need.”
NAMI runs peer-led support group sessions that help individuals with more common illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. These sessions allow people to have a supportive space where they can discuss their issues and learn about resources for how to seek help if emergencies occur. These groups also aid people who struggle with stress and mental exhaustion.
The training process for leading group sessions is broken up into two parts. First, members are taught the do’s and don’ts of leading discussions. After technical training, members sit in on actual sessions led by another person to gain more experience.
The organization’s main issue is that it doesn’t have enough members to support all of its campaigns on a larger scale, because they only have two members who can run group support sessions. This limits the number of students who can have access to these services. Livingston said the group needs more members they can train to lead more support groups and reach more people.
She also said NAMI seeks to have a large impact on how NAU students discuss mental health and that any student can reduce stigma and create safe spaces.
Senior Megan Gray has been an advocate for the importance of mental illness since she became a psychology major. Gray said the work NAMI is doing will have a positive effect on NAU.
“Mental health alone is something that people don’t think to pay attention to,” Gray said. “Just because [mental illnesses] can’t be seen physically, it still needs treatment, as with any other illness.”
Gray said mental health is very important and that everyone should take time to address it and take care of their mind, especially college students.
The board members of NAMI said students don’t need a psychology background to join their cause. Anyone who wants to make an effective change is welcome. Students interested in joining NAMI or who seeks to use their services can visit its website.
“NAMI is a growing group that has big plans for the future that we hope will be a great asset for students here at NAU,” Gaetz said.