NAMI in the Lobby puts mental health front and center

Patient Care |

05/31/2024

NAMI in the Lobby

The partnership between the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Riley brings resources and trained volunteers to the hospital to support patients, caregivers and team members.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

They all have their own stories. Stories of struggle and loss.

That’s what brings them to the busy hallway in Simon Family Tower, each ready to listen, to share, to offer support to someone touched by mental illness.

NAMI in the Lobby is a program designed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness that partners with hospitals to provide trained volunteers in a designated hospital space, offering information on NAMI and other mental health resources.

Riley Hospital for Children became the first children’s hospital to participate in the program when it launched locally last summer.

Twice a week (Monday and Thursday, 4 to 7 p.m.), NAMI- and Riley-trained volunteers man a booth chockful of materials to guide parents, patients and team members who might be struggling with or know someone dealing with a mental health condition.

“This is a program that is near and dear to my heart,” said Riley Volunteer Services program manager Susan Schwarz, who worked with Dr. Leslie Hulvershorn, Riley behavioral health specialist, and NAMI to bring the program to Riley, in large part due to the rise in mental health issues in kids, but for deeply personal reasons as well.

“I lost my sister, who succumbed to depression 15 years ago,” Schwarz said. “This is a real need in our community.”

While Riley is known for the advanced care it provides for all kinds of medical conditions, mental and behavioral health issues require an increased level of commitment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in six youth ages 6 to 17 have a mental health diagnosis. Even when there is effective treatment, a child can experience a mental health crisis, and in that moment, access to help and support can seem out of reach.

NAMI in the Lobby is designed to make resources more visible and accessible for whomever needs them.

“This is an amazing partnership to be able to bring the NAMI program in here to provide education and resources to our family members and staff,” Schwarz said. “To me, it’s one of the most impactful volunteer services we have. I can’t tell you how much good they’re doing in this hallway and the feedback I get.”

Among those volunteering this week are Miranda Dehaai, program manager for NAMI, as well as David and Lisa Doerner and Krystyna Karr, all of whom are open about the difficulties they or their children have faced in getting help for mental illness.

At Riley in particular, parents are already going through a lot because their child might have a difficult diagnosis or a chronic illness that can lead to anxiety and depression for parents and kids, Karr said.

“It’s not just about behavioral health, it’s about understanding that mental health is wellness as a whole and to be able to start that conversation,” she said.

David Doerner said he and his wife, who volunteer at Riley’s NAMI in the Lobby booth twice a month, have found NAMI to be an excellent resource for them as they have navigated a difficult mental illness journey with their son over the past several years.

He needed help, but so did they as his parents.

“You have to be an advocate for yourself or someone else to have a successful recovery, and there are so many people who don’t have that,” said Doerner, who went through NAMI’s family to family class and, with his wife, built lasting relationships with other parents.

While many diagnoses come with a sense of hopelessness for those who aren’t connected with helpful resources, Lisa Doerner said there is a lot of opportunity for hope.

“But it takes that advocacy because it is very easy for the patient to succumb to the illness,” she said, “and if there’s not someone advocating – getting them to appointments, helping them with medication, they won’t climb out of it.”

In addition to multiple pamphlets and information sheets, the volunteer team distributes free medication lock boxes, gun locks and trigger locks upon request. They offer referrals for follow-up calls by NAMI staff and can speak with authority on the help that the organization provides.

“We meet people wherever they are,” Karr said. “Someone might walk up and may not want to engage in a conversation but just pick something up from the table, and that’s OK. If we have someone who wants that 20-minute conversation, that’s OK too.”

Even if they walk away with just a sticker, it’s a start, Karr said.

“When people realize that the volunteers have a stake in the game because of our own connection to mental health, it removes barriers and allows people to talk about their experience.”

Schwarz would like to see the NAMI in the Lobby booth be a permanent installation at Riley, staffed seven days a week. That will require a greater level of commitment, as well as more volunteers.

Training is provided by NAMI Indiana, which has a network of 16 affiliates around the state.

To learn more, contact Schwarz at sschwarz@iuhealth.org or NAMI at info@namiindiana.org.

If you or someone you know needs immediate assistance, call the national suicide and crisis lifeline at 988.

Earlier this year, Riley Children’s Foundation announced an $8 million commitment from Sarah and John Lechleiter to address the youth mental health crisis in Indiana by making mental and behavioral health services available through pediatric and primary care offices.

Riley Children’s Health is initially embedding mental health services in Riley and IU Health pediatric and primary care offices, reaching 70,000 to 80,000 children and adolescents in diverse urban, suburban and rural communities across Indiana.

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org

Related Doctor

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Leslie A. Hulvershorn, MD

Psychiatry