Across the country and around the world, there are a number of organizations dedicated to helping people who struggle with mental health disorders and their families to better understand the nature of their illnesses and connect with treatment that will assist them with managing symptoms.
Research, education, and support services are all crucial components that empower the healing process. The following are three major organizations that can provide families with the information they need to take the first step toward mental health and wellness through treatment.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting mental health patients and their families with the resources they need to better understand the nature of the illnesses, share their stories, and connect with others who are also living with a mental health disorder. They offer:
- Analysis of a range of issues about or related to mental illness and/or brain disorders
- Access to current mental health research and data
- A place for people living with mental health issues and their caregivers to share their stories
- A forum for people living with mental illness and their families to speak out and connect with others
- Opinion on mental health policy and policies that impact mental health treatment, patients, and their families
The National Alliance on Mental Illness began in 1979 when a small group of families first began meeting to support one another and share their experiences living with mental illness. It has since grown into a grassroots advocacy organization with hundreds of affiliates staffed by volunteers who work to increase awareness of the issues facing people living with mental illness and support people in their journey toward balance through treatment.
NAMI is dedicated to giving a voice to the millions of people and their families who are living with a mental health disorder and helping patients to improve their lives through treatment and reduced stigma. They recognize that improved quality of life for people living with mental illness comes through support and treatment and believe that no mental health symptoms should be an obstacle to a person’s ability to live a balanced and meaningful life. Their goal is to advocate for people impacted by mental health issues and work to ensure that all who need it can connect with treatment that will help them thrive.
NAMI offers a number of services and programs to patients living with mental health disorders and their families as well as those who would like to positively impact the mental health community. These programs include:
- NAMI Basics
- NAMI Connection
- NAMI Ending the Silence
- NAMI Family Support Group
- NAMI Family-to-Family
- NAMI Homefront
- NAMI In Our Own Voice
- NAMI Peer-to-Peer
- NAMI Parents & Teachers as Allies
- NAMI Provider Education
NAMI also advocates for public policy changes that empower families living with mental health disorders, sponsors public awareness events, provides educational services on mental health disorders and related issues, and maintains their toll-free NAMI helpline (800-950-NAMI) to provide information and support to people in need. Families and their loved ones living with mental health symptoms are encouraged to call weekdays between 10 am and 6 pm Eastern time, connect with them online, or seek out a local affiliate for support and information.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is focused on researching the nature of all mental health disorders to better understand the impact on patients, and thus create new and effective treatments. NIMH also provides open access to its findings as well as a wealth of mental health information on its site. From anxiety disorders and personality disorders to suicide prevention and autism spectrum disorders as well as other mental health-related topics, NIMH is a premiere resource for families impacted by mental health disorders.
The National Institute of Mental Health story begins in 1946 when President Truman signed the National Mental Health Act calling for the creation of an organization dedicated to learning more about mental illness. In 1949, NIMH was formally created and became one of the first four National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In the 1950s, NIMH’s first order of business was to contribute to the creation of a 10-volume report assessing the state of mental health in the US and its impact on communities. In response to the needs identified in that report, in the 1960s, NIMH began to establish community mental health centers focused on special mental health concerns (e.g., schizophrenia, child and family mental health, etc.) across the country and granted funds to pay the salaries of mental health professionals who staffed these centers.
In 1993, NIMH established the Human Brain Project, a neuroscience database that utilized cutting-edge imaging and technologies, and it was placed on an internationally accessible computer database to facilitate worldwide research collaboration.
Since 1996, NIMH has worked to improve its functioning on every level, collaborate with other neuroscience researchers, safeguard human subjects, and include the public when determining priorities in research.
The mission of the National Institute of Mental Health is to prevent and cure all mental illnesses. To do this, NIMH seeks to form a more comprehensive understanding of mental health disorders and their treatments through clinical research.
Currently, NIMH is supporting a range of research studies and providing access to their findings to the general public. For example, NIMH is funding the Biomarkers Consortium Project’s efforts to test and fine-tune the clinical measures used to assess social impairment in patients on the autism spectrum. Additionally, NIMH is conducting trials of a new computerized attention control training program with the goal of reducing the experience of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in combat veterans.
The public as well as mental health patients and their families can connect with trials conducted by NIMH and learn more about their latest findings as well as access a compendium of information on the nature of any mental health disorder on their site or by connecting with them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other venues.
World Health Organization (WHO)
The World Health Organization (WHO) is an international organization dedicated to increasing the health and wellness of people in countries around the world. According to WHO, 14 percent of the disease burden of the world can be attributed to mental health disorders, substance abuse and addiction, and neurological disorders, yet 75 percent of the patients live in countries where they do not have access to treatment that can help them to heal. Lack of access to appropriate or effective mental health care is an issue that WHO is dedicated to addressing through research, education, and policy reform.
The World Health Organization was initially conceived in 1945 by diplomats who were meeting to form the United Nations. Just three years later, on April 7, 1948, the WHO Constitution was created, and this day is now celebrated as World Health Day around the globe.
In addition to addressing the medical needs of low-income countries, WHO has long been focused on educating governments about the nature of mental health disorders and helping them to understand that there are treatment options and medications available – and that incarcerating patients is not the answer, a common practice in many countries to this day. Unfortunately, even with the knowledge that there are mental health treatment options available, many countries simply did not – and do not – have the resources to provide their residents with the treatment necessary to heal.
To address this issue, WHO created their Division of Mental Health in the 1970s. A regional adviser was appointed in each of the six WHO regional offices, and soon the Division’s network of 10 collaborating centers grew to more than 100 across 80 countries.
In 1999, WHO continued its work on worldwide mental health reform by collaborating with the European Commission to increase awareness of mental health issues and working to connect patients with appropriate care.
Additionally, in the 1990s, WHO created a research measurement tool known as disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs). It is this tool that allows researchers to quantify the loss associated with untreated mental illness, or the burden of disease, by calculating the number of years lived with disability (YLD) and the number of years lost due to mental illness (YLL). This tool not only allows researchers to better assess the impact of mental health disorders but also aids in the effective planning and management of programs dedicated to helping mental health patients and their families.
The mission of the World Health Organization is to increase the services made available to people struggling with mental health disorders, neurological disorders, and substance abuse and addiction around the world, with a special focus on aiding patients living in low- and middle-income countries. With the right intervention, medication, and treatment, WHO asserts that tens of millions of people could be treated for various disorders, including depression and schizophrenia, and ultimately maintain balance and wellness.
The World Health Organization has a number of active core projects that are serving to close the gap between the need for mental health services and access to treatment. These include:
- Mental Health Atlas: This project focuses on the collection of worldwide data on mental health-related topics, including financing of mental health treatment, how treatment is provided, medications available, information systems in use, mental health-related policies, and more. The data was first collected in 2001 and updated in 2005, 2011, and 2014.
- WHO-AIMS: The World Health Organization Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems is a tool for gathering information about the mental health system of an area with the goal of making improvements to that system and creating a baseline that will facilitate positive change.
- Mental Health in Emergencies: This project focuses on providing mental health services to people in areas struck by crises, including natural disaster, war, terrorism, refugees, and others.