Photo courtesy of Muguette Guenneguez

As I made my way to my seat in my business writing class, the breeze from the windstorm hit me from the classroom window. I could hear my classmates discussing our future assignments as we all got ready for class to begin. This particular day, we had multiple guest speakers, but my eyes immediately were set on a Black woman’s cozy looking scarf, which she frequently adjusted. I saw her warm eyes smile at our class from across the room over a zoom call. As our class started, a mellow voice with a subtle accent touched everyone’s ears and her bright red lips stretched into a smile.

The sweet and friendly face on the screen was Muguette Guenneguez. Her short brown hair and warm-colored clothing give Muguette a welcoming demeanor that suits her role as the executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness Seattle. During our interview, Muguette informed us that when she was 15, she and her family moved to the United States from Haiti. As they tried to adjust to their new environment in the U.S, two of Muguette’s siblings would soon be diagnosed with schizophrenia. With English not her family’s first language, it was always a challenge to communicate with doctors and psychiatrists about the risks and effects of the illness. Muguette’s mom even turned to prayer, thinking it could cure mental illness. Muguette states, “My family was ashamed. My mother was a very strong Christian, she thought that praying would deliver, deliver her, or deliver them from those calamities; which obviously didn’t happen.” This left her family with an immense amount of generational trauma, due to the stigma around mental health and not having any support around them.

Watching her siblings struggle with mental health issues ultimately helped her overcome her reticence about speaking up. She even says that the earlier you bring up the conversation about mental health “the better, and as often as possible.” For the past fifteen years, her work has been centered around social justice, education and advocacy. She joined the NAMI Seattle team in 2018.

Since then, Muguette has worked hard to try to destigmatize mental health, especially in communities of Black Indigenous, and People of Color. She says that “it is easy to feel isolated and easier to keep things inside” but she has worked with NAMI to create free support groups to help anyone feeling down know that they are not alone.

Muguette expresses that she is an “optimist at heart” and I believe this is one of her main sources of motivation in her work. Given the history of her siblings with schizophrenia, she often found herself thinking of her siblings when she saw someone homeless because that could’ve been them if they hadn’t had family members to advocate for them. She is also thoughtful enough to worry about the future generations because she doesn’t want them to have to deal with the same issues she dealt with growing up. Keeping that in mind, she is still fearful that some may not have the courage to face their own mental breakdowns.

As well as her optimistic heart, what keeps her invested in her work is her 24-year-old son. As a Black woman, Muguette knows firsthand how hard it can be to deal with generational trauma and coming from Haiti at such a young age, she experienced it directly. The love of a mother is stronger than no other and she states that “having a child impacted my life in a way I never expected”. Because Muguette grew up seeing innocent Black men murdered for simply existing, it’s almost like her “son is walking on the street with a target on his chest”. She also states that it used to be hard for her to watch him leave the house every day, and she often feared that he wouldn’t return home. Muguette’s fears push her to support similarly vulnerable individuals, and she does this through NAMI Seattle.

At NAMI Seattle, Muguette and her team provide mental health training and workshops to local businesses and nonprofits.

To this day, Muguette continues to provide an exceptional amount of support for her community. She says that as she works for NAMI Seattle, it is her job to “fill the cracks that are left by the health system because people don’t think that mental health is part of physical health.” Likewise, Muguette mentions that “NAMI reminds us that we need a community to understand each other”. From helping create support groups for struggling Americans, to destigmatizing and ending her generational trauma, Muguette Guenneguez continues to advocate for mental health issues at NAMI Seattle.

If you would like to help destigmatize mental health, click here for ways to get involved

Or, to seek help for yourself or a loved one, reach out to NAMI Seattle’s mental health referral and information Helpline to get connected to the support and resources you need:

Call or Text: (425) 298-5315

Written by Nasheeta Lott, Anh Mai Nguyen, Monica Su, Duc Gia Tran, Karthik Kachanangton UW Bothell School of Business with Laura Umetsu’s Business Writing & Ethics class.

And special thanks to Jasmine Bager for her work coaching students on storytelling. Jasmine writes for a variety of publications, including TIME, Teen Vogue, and Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation of Journalism on issues ranging from women’s rights to art to fashion