NAMI Seattle board member Joey Wilson’s journey with schizophrenia

NAMI Seattle board member Joey Wilson’s journey with schizophrenia

By Casey Reynolds, Ryan Parkes, Desmond Hong, Paul Oh, and Kansuke Suzuki, UW Bothell School of Business

Joey at the King County Behavioral Health Legislative Forum. Photo credit: Ricky Garcia

Though virtual learning and meeting others through a screen often feels less than personal for us, when we logged into Zoom to meet with NAMI Seattle board member Joey Wilson for the first time, his warm and gentle personality made us feel like we had already established a personal connection with him long ago. 

We immediately noticed that he speaks softly and thoughtfully, taking time to consider what he says before he says it without minding the occasional awkward silence. He speaks in an easy-going, upbeat, and steady voice with a sparkle in his eye that makes it feel as though he’s always excited to speak with you. 

Joey’s early adolescent experiences

Joey was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 19, and is now a community advocate for mental health. He serves on the board of directors for NAMI Seattle and the Arc of King County, and has advocated for mental health legislation.

When we asked him what inspired him to volunteer to support others, he said, “Growing up with 5 other siblings, we had to share everything. We didn’t have much money, and we had to share everything. Video games, food, kitchen, bathroom, there were things we always had to share that most [wealthier] kids in my neighborhood (I grew up in Queen Anne), they didn’t have to share. My mom worked her tail off, she sacrificed half her life raising us […] there was no father figure. There were hard times but I was lucky to grow up in a community that had a lot of support. Some people don’t have that support, and it can leave you in a really bad place in life.”

Joey explained that the prime factor that helped shape his mindset on mental health, and life, was that, “My father was absent most of my life. I was able to reach out to him and make peace with him within his last years of life. It was in those last couple of years of his life that I reflected a lot on my own journey. Seeing the struggles that he faced had a huge influence on me, and gave me a perspective on my own challenges and mental health. I think about my dad every day, and I think about everything I learned by coming to his aid, and for him being there for me. It has had a profound and positive effect on me.” 

He attributes much of his success and current positivity to the mental health challenges he’s faced, but he didn’t always feel this way. 

Joey at the January 15, 2022 Seattle Kraken game. In 2022, the Seattle Kraken honored Joey as a community hero.

While thinking back on a younger Joey, he said, “Going back ten or fifteen years, I was very angry and mad at life. So blind to the world. Always felt like I was so far behind my peers, and that I would never catch up to my peers. I was concerned with the future, but today I am so calm, and thankful for a good life. I know I have so much to learn, and so much life to live. If I had to advise teenage Joey, I would say ‘Try your best in school even though the odds are stacked against you. You can’t put a price on education. Think about your future, and make the right decisions or it will always catch up with you. I would tell myself that there are no shortcuts to life.’” 

Schizophrenia diagnosis and seeking help

Joey’s positive perspective took a lot of hard work and dedication. When discussing his journey to seek help, he said “I was a regular in the Harborview hospital psych ward for 3 years and I spent my 21st and 22nd birthday in Harborview.” Joey said, “The medication I take [now] really saved my life because that’s one thing is medication, I know without that I would die because my mind would not be calm.”

Joining NAMI Seattle’s board of directors

Joey joined the NAMI Seattle board of directors in 2021. Joey’s mission has become trying to help others find the proper care that they need for their mental health. When asked if he feels that helping others is helpful for his mental health he said, “I think it definitely helps. I think helping others is very good for the soul. Helping others is one of my favorite things in life to do, it makes me feel happy. If there is one thing I would take away from my thirty years of life is to always remember to help others and remember that others are facing hardships too and that everyone struggles in life and appreciates a kind, helping hand”. 

Joey said, “There are so many steps just to get individuals and everyone to help. It is very confusing to know where to turn, especially in a crisis. There is not enough funding, there are also very long waits for people in crisis, there is little public awareness for those, and it takes too long to get medication.”

Given the importance of community in his life, Joey thinks that NAMI Seattle helped him reach peace of mind and gives him joy when he can help those in times of hardship. He strongly encourages others to get involved with NAMI Seattle, as involvement significantly helps with his own mental health, gives him fulfillment, a voice, and a chance for change. 

Want to get involved like Joey? You can join or donate to NAMI Seattle. 

Special thanks to Jasmine Bager and Tony Nabors for assisting us with writing this piece. This piece was a collaboration between NAMI Seattle and Professor Laura Umetsu’s business writing and ethics class at UW Bothell.

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