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When Shelli Mills’ teenage daughter twice attempted suicide, she turned to the National Alliance for Mental Illness Colorado Springs for help.

Through NAMI CS, Mill’s daughter, who has anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders, got the help she needed and never again attempted to take her own life. As a result, Mills joined NAMI to give back to the organization that helped her daughter.

“I want to help others the way NAMI helped my daughter. My life has changed because of them,” Mills said.

NAMI CS is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people experiencing mental illness. It cultivates a welcoming community of peers who educate, support and advocate for people and families living with mental health conditions.

Also, it provides no-cost education programs, virtual and in-person support groups, and resource and referral services. NAMI is able to do this, in part, because of its affiliation with the annual Empty Stocking Fund. The ESF provides funding to 20 local health and human service agencies in El Paso and Teller Counties on the front lines of helping people in crisis and assisting others to attain self-sufficiency.

“We responded to a request in 2020 for a mental health service agency to join the fund and were thrilled to be selected as that agency. We appreciate the opportunity to supplement our organization's year-end fundraising, and the chance to partner with and learn from other nonprofits doing great work in this community,” said Associate Executive Director Kirk Woundy.

In a survey of 1,001 local people released earlier this year, the Elevated Insights research firm found 49% reporting worse emotional well-being during COVID. More than ever, people need access to a judgment-free, fully accessible community where they can learn about what they or family members are experiencing, and educate themselves through local resources.

NAMI CS provides this while conducting presentations and joining community forums, fairs, roundtables, educational panels and other events.

“We continue to be there for individuals and families dealing with severe and persistent mental illness, for whom the COVID era has been especially unkind,” Woundy said.

NAMI CS’ free programs and support groups emphasize that mental illness is biologically based, treatable and common with 1 in 5 people experiencing it in any given year. It breaks down into three categories.

• People living with mental illness: peer-to-peer and connection support groups provide strategies and support to adults who wish to establish and maintain wellness in response to personal mental health challenges such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression.

• Family members: family-to-family, basics and family support groups serve family members of individuals who struggle with mental illness, providing information and resources on brain physiology, advocacy strategies and self-care.

• Community members and groups: NAMI CS offers classes designed to fight the stigma of helping, and to educate others on the “lived experience” of mental illness.

NAMI CS has led or co-led five community-wide awareness initiatives and built a corps of more than 100 trained volunteers who teach classes, connect with the community at resource fairs, and each year help thousands of people navigate the complicated mental health system. The Empty Stocking Fund helps NAMI make this possible.

“To better serve populations with higher barriers to care, in recent years we have started dedicated outreach to local teens and communities of color. We want to be a known resource for most anyone navigating mental illness and is succeeding in its pursuit,” Woundy said.

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