We are living in a time of increasing polarization in our communities, and I know that we are all feeling it. I feel it. There’s an anger buzzing underneath everything as people face more and more uncertainty in their lives and persecution based on their identities. It shows up in the ways we interact with each other, and the people we care about. It shows up as a focus on being right and winning, rather than building community and bringing people together for the betterment of all of us.
NAMI is a nonpartisan organization, but that does not mean that we do not take positions on policy issues – it means that we take policy positions that put our mission first. Policies that center the experiences of people impacted by mental illness, that address unmet mental health needs, and support the overall mental health of our communities.
Mental health should not be political, because mental health conditions know no party. It can happen to anyone, any family, any community. It does happen to anyone; to about 1 in 5 of us in the US, in fact. But politics and policies themselves have an impact on the mental health of individuals and our community as a whole. The choices we make as a society can positively or negatively influence the mental health of our community members.
Daily, we still see breaking news stories about immigrant families that have been separated from their children due to policies our country is enforcing. Removing children from their parents and placing them in an unfamiliar and scary detention center setting causes a deep trauma that can’t be undone. We know that childhood trauma can play a significant role in the development of mental health disorders later in life. We are going to see the consequences of the decisions we make as a country today for decades or centuries, even as we see the effects of intergenerational trauma still playing out from Japanese-American internment, the Holocaust, and Native American forced boarding chool education and colonization. I feel strongly that policies that cause trauma and trigger mental health issues are antithetical to NAMI’s mission and vision.
Over the next 12 months at NAMI Seattle, we will be particularly focused on adding Spanish language capacity for our signature programs, specifically Family-to-Family, Family & Friends Seminar, and Smarts for Advocacy. We are excited to finally add bilingual Spanish speaking volunteers as Family-to-Family teachers, and will be working to add more multi-lingual folks to our outstanding cadre of volunteer Program Leaders. If you or someone you know has language skills to contribute as a Program Leader, please join us in our effort to make NAMI programs accessible for everyone and ensure that language is not a barrier to support and recovery.
I know that many of you, our NAMI Seattle supporters, care deeply about these issues and see a future where everyone has the mental health support and services they need. But I also know that we think about what it would be like to prevent mental health conditions altogether. Where we can eliminate unnecessary trauma, we bolster our chances at preventing mental illness.
Where we can’t eliminate trauma or re-write the policies that create it, we can turn to support organizations doing good work. I want to draw specific attention to some of the agencies we are fortunate to have in Seattle, working hard to support our Latinx, immigrant, and refugee community members: Entre Hermanos, El Centro de le Raza, The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Puentes, and many others. These partners in community health are featured in our 2018 Summer Newsletter, and I hope you’ll take a few moments to learn more about them, and take hope in their efforts.
Ashley Fontaine, MSW
(Originally featured in NAMI Seattle’s 2018 Summer Newsletter)
You can read NAMI’s official statement regarding family separation at the border here.