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ILLN Opinion+

ILLN Opinion+: Andy Wade

Executive Director of the NAMI Illinois on the cultural nuances of mental health

On this episode of ILLN Opinion+, we spoke with Andy Wade, the Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI Illinois). NAMI Illinois is Illinois’ branch of a national grassroots organization that aims to support, educate and advocate for people and families affected by mental illness. NAMI’s 20 local affiliate offices currently serve over 50,000 people a year throughout the state. 

With so much misinformation and stigma surrounding conversations about mental health, Executive Director Wade described the need to normalize talking about these issues, citing that mental health is simply an extension of physical health. It is something all humans deal with.

“Everybody has mental health and we all, frankly, have days where our mental health might be better or worse than on other days, so the degree to which a mental health condition affects our lives is really the thing to pay attention to. The idea that some people have mental health issues and other people just don’t, that’s false,” he said.

It’s important to note that mental health is not universally experienced. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the topic because our understanding of the world and how we navigate it are so uniquely dependent on a variety of factors, one being race. Executive Director Wade says that there are currently gaps in the programs catered to minority groups, but NAMI looks to expand the way they offer their services.

“We are looking at everything through the viewpoint of equity, and equity means everybody gets what they need to thrive and succeed. And if you look at our society right now resources and support systems aren’t equally distributed,” he said.

In order to better serve the Black and Latinx communities, NAMI launched two culturally competent video series, Sharing Hope and Compartiendo Esperanza, that encourage these groups to partake in mental wellness dialogues in ways that resonate with them.

“If you ask about mental health, a lot of times people will clam up. If you ask about wellness, stress, how you’re feeling, it’s kind of a myth that people won’t talk about mental health issues, but we have to talk about them in the right way,” he explains. 

Executive Director Wade expressed NAMI’s awareness of a lack of resources in regards to Spanish language content and was very transparent in their efforts to fill that void through implementing new programs, such as Compartiendo Esperanza, building relationships with other organizations, and encouraging more bilingual and culturally competent professionals to join the mental health workforce.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

NAMI Illinois: https://namiillinois.org

NAMI Illinois en Español: https://namiillinois.org/en-espanol

Compartiendo Esperanza: https://namiillinois.org/compartiendo-esperanza/

Sharing Hope: https://namiillinois.org/sharing-hope/

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