National Alliance on Mental Illness
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A New Year Key for Success: Collaboration

By Margaret Ann Holt

As we begin a new year, we all are probably open to learning about successful community ventures that build partnerships for mental health awareness and break down barriers to treatment.

Let’s go to Virginia, where in 2003, individuals concerned about mental illness issues within the state of Virginia Planning District 16 (a city and four counties) met to plan collaboration. They named themselves “Mental Health Partners” and devised a hands-around-the-table approach.

Mental Health Partners has representatives from the faith community, Virginia Interfaith Committee on Mental Illness Ministries (VICOMIM); the public mental health care system, Rappahannock Area Community Services Board (RACSB); the local psychiatric hospital, Snowden and Medicorp; the non-profit Fredericksburg Counseling Service; NAMI Rappahannock; Mental Health America-Fredericksburg and Recovery in Motion (RIM). 

Mental Health Partners work on a number of activities throughout the year to raise mental health awareness, including a focus on Mental Health Awareness Month in May and Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) in October. 

During Mental Health Awareness Month, RIM organizes an annual “Candlelight Vigil of Hope,” which is held outside in the town square with speakers, music and candle lighting. RIM also hosts luncheon held at the downtown public library, where representatives offer information and brochures to each of the branches so they can create special displays related to Mental Health Awareness Month.

The RACSB recognizes Mental Health Awareness Month by hosting a psychosocial day program, which includes a police appreciation luncheon for law enforcement officers and judges from all five jurisdictions. The luncheon offers a liaison setting between mental health consumers, providers and law enforcement personnel. RACSB additionally hosts an exhibit, “The Art of Recovery," in collaboration with the nearby University of Mary Washington. Consumer artwork, such as paintings, collage, sculpture and drawings, are displayed for two weeks in a beautifully appointed gallery at the university. The exhibit has been held each year since 2004 and people celebrate with catered food at the opening reception, while artists are encouraged to sit next to their artwork and talk with the guests. 

Mental Health America-Fredericksburg sponsors a “Walk for Mental Wellness” and NAMI Rappahannock hosts a “Choices in Recovery Seminar” during May as well. The groups also champion Mental Health Awareness Month activities and raise awareness about family and peer support groups through newspapers and public services announcements (PSAs) on local radio stations.

Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW), established by the U.S. Congress in 1990, is the first full week in October each year. It is NAMI’s premiere public awareness and education campaign around mental illness.

During this week, RIM volunteers typically plan a National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding service at a local church. VICOMIM encourages congregations to observe MIAW at Sunday services. Special mental illness and recovery displays used during MIAW at district public libraries include VICOMIM’s 2005 "Famous Persons" picture bulletin board.

We hope you’ll take this list of collaborative ideas to your local community organizations for planning future activities during May, October and beyond. Partnerships in education and awareness are the key to mentally healthy communities. 

Margaret Ann Holt is coordinator of Resources for Virginia Interfaith Committee on Mental Illness Ministries and a member of NAMI Rappahannock.