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Overcoming the stigma of mental illness

Millions of Americans — including millions of Hoosiers — face mental health challenges.

News 8’s Amicia Ramsey takes a look at how these issues impact the Indianapolis community in a weeklong “INside Story” series.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) —  Two years of isolation and uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic took a mental toll on many Americans.

One of the organizations working to improve the lives of people affected by mental health challenges is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI.

NAMI has 15 locations across the Hoosier state, including one in Marion County.

Linda Williams has served as program director in Marion County for the past 12 years.

“Traditionally, we’ve treated mental illness if we compare it to cancer. We treated it in Stage 4 versus treating it in the beginning stages,” Williams said.

The organization certifies and trains people on the fundamentals of mental illness, how to support someone with challenges, and crisis intervention. It also teaches people practical solutions.

“Some of the presentations are at hospitals in the inpatient unit. There are people there who have lost hope,” Williams said.

Williams says an untreated mental disorder and substance abuse are big problems.

“Many times, people with mental illness are looking for a better way to feel better and to feel ‘normal,’ so to speak,” Williams said.

Sometimes, people who want to feel “better” and “normal” turn to alcohol or drugs.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, opioid overdose deaths in Indiana more than tripled from 2015 to 2020.

“They may use drugs and alcohol to cope. It may work for a little bit, but eventually, it quits working and has the opposite effect. Then we see the individuals with a substance abuse order in addition to mental illness,” Williams said.

NAMI offers a free peer-to-peer eight-session educational class for adults with mental health conditions. The course is taught by people who share their stories about mental health challenges.

Willams says it’s important for people to know they’re not alone.

“We are breaking down the stigma, educating people about that, letting them know there is help early on, and that the sooner they get help, the better their outcome is going to be,” Williams said.

Mental health resources