IN A NAME? LIFESPAN OF NAMI HUMBOLDT
As recollected in 2002 by Sara M. Turner, Founder
of the first items our fledgling group addressed was what to call
ourselves. Neither of us can remember just how we met in 1976
or how we came to discuss the problems we faced as the parent of an
adult with mental illness. Both of us were social workers in different
organizations and we knew about resources for help. However, when
Marian A. and I spoke of our problems in the unremembered time and
place, we agreed that there must be others like us who could benefit
from a group experience where we could educate, support and console
each other. That was all we had in mind. "Families for Mental
Recovery" was what we were.
decided to see what would happen when a notice was placed in the
two local papers for beginning a "self-help" group for families
who had a mentally ill relative. Since we both lived north of Eureka,
we obtained permission to use space in Humboldt Federal Savings and
Loan office building, now Humboldt Bank [Arcata].
than six people came, but as we introduced ourselves and talked
about the psychiatric problems our children had (all of whom were
young adults then), it was obvious that our experiences were remarkably
similar. We felt guilt (what did we do wrong?), shame (there is no
way this son/daughter will ever be socially acceptable to friends
or family), anger (often a spouse blames the other for perceived parental
faults), and puzzlement (what has caused this strange behavior?).
little was available in the way of services. My own son had been
hospitalized at Sempervirens (SV) when it was still located in the
old General Hospital. The move to its current location at 720 Wood
Street and the first Day Treatment came later in that decade. So,
our group began by sharing how we coped and what we did to help our
son/daughter acknowledgte a need for help, and then by obtaining it.
small nucleus of members gathered monthly and, although notices
were placed in the newspapers, the group did not grow in size. Almost
no one came simply because a mental health worker, a doctor or other
care giving professional suggested they do so. That situation is no
longer true; our group is often suggested by professionals who know
and respect us now. I believed then that having non-profit status
would generate improved recognition and, perhaps, money. I completed
the application and we were state approved in July, 1979.
applied to the Humboldt Area Foundation in the eighties for a small
grant and were approved. This enabled us to buy a used typewriter
and an answering machine, have a professionally produced brochure
printed, and obtain letterhead. Since some of us were willing to go
public about our family situation, we have listened and counseled
many distraught people who would not always identify themselves. The
element of stigma is still strong, but unquestionably there has been
a diminution of it.
size and interests of our group waxed and waned. More Eureka members
brought a relocation of our meetings to the current site, Humboldt
Bay Municipal Water District office at 828 Seventh Street, Eureka.
The water board's generosity in making this space available free has
contributed immeasurably to our continuity. [Consult the Meetings
page for the address of NAMI Humboldt's most recent meetings' location.]
of new services by the county was painfully slow. We still lack
the variety of housing options that would benefit those with mental
health problems. A newsletter was printed and distributed in 1990,
but none subsequently, until it was resumed in 1995, and only biannually
early 1979 I was notified of an organizational meeting to be held
in September in Madison, WI, for individuals, both professionals and
family, concerned about treatment and care of the mentally ill.
That meeting was truly inspirational; it was the only one of many
conferences I have attended in my life to which those present had
paid their own way. This was not an "expense account" meeting.
I became one of the "founders" of the National Alliance
for the Mentally Ill, and all local groups like ours were asked to
change our name for better recognition. We became Humboldt (County)
Alliance for the Mentally Ill (HAMI). [Note: By 2005 our name had
metamorphosed to NAMI Humboldt, with the acronym NAMI standing for
National Alliance on Mental Illness.]
our effort to educate ourselves and the community we collaborated
with the College of San Mateo to have a workshop in Eureka in May,
1984, on "Schizophrenia: Through the Eyes of the Families."
Attendance was gratifying and a unique perspective was introduced
to this community.
the dedicated members who joined in the '80s was John Sisson, who
has been our President for several years. Along with regularly
getting the office key and opening the door, he has ably served as
facilitator for the Caring and Sharing sessions that now alternate
with program meetings.
our effort to attract and keep members and, in the process, to educate
ourselves about mental illnesses and local treatment, we have had
many stimulating programs. For a time these were held in the conference
room at Humboldt County Department of Mental Health [since renamed
Mental Health Branch] during the noon hour. Many staff joined our
"brown bag" meetings.
that hour did not seem best for families' attendance, so we returned
our program meetings to the first Thursday nights at the HBMWD office
downtown. Caring and Sharing meetings had remained there. During
the years of low attendance, we questioned whether we should continue.
Always, however, a new person would come, with anguish and pain, who
spoke to the importance of our sharing their distress and offering
members with special skills have re-configured our organizational
structure. Betsy Harrell's attention to detail brought regular
meeting sign-up sheets, notes on the speakers, circulation of newsletters
from elsewhere and, most important, amendment of by-laws, which had
vanished. We have seen both the state and national organizations expand
and solidify their structure, with newsletters, annual meetings, and
lobbying for legislation we believe essential to good care for our
final name change to NAMI Humboldt came at the request of the national
organization which, since 1979, has grown to over 250,000 members.
Our own group now numbers 90.
are stronger in more ways than just numbers, however. While we
always have welcomed consumers of mental health services, an effective
outreach has attracted more who attend and join at a reduced membership
fee. Recovering consumers show families what is possible and give
hope, that ingredient we all need to survive the valleys along the
path of chronic illness.