National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Miss President: NAMI Welcomes Keris Myrick

By Courtney Reyers, NAMI Publications Manager

Keris Jän Myrick is the newly elected president on the NAMI Board of Directors. She has served on the national board for many years in various capacities, and has been active with NAMI since her release from a California hospital, after which she went to NAMI San Gabriel Valley for support.

“[NAMI San Gabriel Valley] really rallied around me and invited me to get on the board,” Keris remembers. “I got ushered in and I found the work and the people interesting. I knew very little about mental health and mental illness, and they helped me learn.”

After moving to the west coast, Keris found herself not only dealing with shifting diagnoses around her illnesses (OCD and schizoaffective disorder, today), but also stuck in the mire of navigating the American mental health care system. She had no family and few friends—barely any support. NAMI helped her get through her recovery and manage her illness. It was difficult but also served as a key motivator. “I can say how horrible things are, but that doesn't help me change it,” Keris says of the mental health care system. “And I want to change things.”

What does changing things mean? For Keris, it’s a three-pronged approach: breaking down barriers of stigma, reaching younger families as well as older populations and changing our country’s approach to mental health care.

As a girl growing up in an east coast African American family, Keris says it was hard for her family to know how to distinguish between what was developmentally “normal” for a child or a teen and what where indicators of her illnesses to come. “[My family] had concerns around privacy and stigma, not airing dirty laundry--just taking care of it at home.” Keris says. Keris believes family and social support are key to recovery management.

“What I saw at the NAMI Annual Convention in Seattle [in July] was many more young people and young families,” Keris says. “We need to continue to attract them. We need to think about how we deliver our education programs, how younger people learn and use different types of supports, we need to reach the young folks who are trying to find their identities and cope with mental illness. How can we help them not get stuck in that way?”

A wide array of services and supports are needed in communities across the country to handle mental health care needs. The health care situation also needs to evolve so that everyone has access to care when they need it.

“Our convention was a great indicator of our ability to think broadly about how can a person achieve recovery, resiliency and wellness,” Keris says. “We should always be asking ‘what does mental health care actually look like? What do people need to achieve wellness with a holistic approach?’”

Keris has a lot of plans, not only as the executive director at the Project Return Peer Support Network in Commerce, Calif., but also as NAMI BOD president. I would love to see how our education programs are keeping families in tact,” Keris says. “Explore how can we come together and learn from each other versus segregating the way we do it now—we have peer programs and family programs, but how can we put the two groups together so that we can have one voice of education and advocacy—much like we do in the NAMI Basics and NAMI Provider education programs? That’s what I want to see.”

In October 2011, Keris spoke to the New York Times about living with mental illness. Watch the video on how Keris manages her illnesses. For Keris’ full bio, go here .