Time to talk about mental health: Grassroots efforts making a difference

Published 9:41 am Thursday, May 19, 2022

By Glenda Smith

For the Enterprise

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, recognized in the U.S. since 1949. It was founded by Mental Health America, formerly the National Association for Mental Health. Mental Health Month aims to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illness and to reduce stigma.

Over the next several weeks one or more of the nine organizations included in the Piedmont Triad Mental Wellness Peer Support Groups brochure will be highlighted. Initial coverage by the Davie County Enterprise Record  regarding the brochure was in the Feb. 24 edition. The brochure’s contents can now be viewed on Facebook by entering Piedmont Triad Mental Wellness Peer Support Groups exactly, including spaces.

The first mental health peer support group to be covered is the Mental Health Association in Forsyth County.  It is an affiliate of Mental Health America. MHA is the resource navigator, educator, and community connector for mental health care in this area. Andy Hagler is the executive director, 336-768-3880, andy@triadmentalhealth.org.  The MHA’s local website is www.triadmentalhealth.org. Updates regarding their support group information can be found on the website.

When I first attempted to locate mental health resources in this area, MHA made some helpful recommendations regarding what they offered and what some other local organizations offered.

MHA staff member Susan Wheeler, a certified NC Peer Support Specialist, is the largest distributor of the mental wellness peer support brochures. Once a week Susan provides patients who are being discharged from the behavioral health units at Forsyth Medical Center, Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, and Old Vineyard a copy of the brochure.  Once every three weeks she distributes brochures to patients who are being discharged at Novant’s Forsyth Behavioral Health Outpatient facility.

A future article will explain and describe the many roles of peer support specialists. They are a highly underutilized resource in helping individuals achieve mental wellness. For mental health peers interested in working with others facing mental health challenges and would like information, google “peer support specialists in North Carolina”.  All PSS with whom I have talked find their work to be rewarding.

MHA offers 4 types of support groups:

• Anxiety Disorders is for adults with generalized anxiety, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or any other anxiety disorder.

• Thrive is for young adults, ages 18-30, with any mental health issue.

• Schizophrenia/Schizo-Affective Disorder is for adults.

• Tides is for adults with depression, bipolar disorder, and other mood disorders.

The following historical event relates to the MHA organization and illustrates how far society has come in understanding and treating mental illness:

In the early 1950s, MeHA made a request of asylums across the United States to contribute the chains and shackles that were once used to restrain people with mental illness. On April 13, 1953, at the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, these inhumane restraints were melted down by MHA and recast into a 300-pound Mental Health Bell.This bell is the symbol of Mental Health America. It also symbolizes hope. Inscribed on the bell are these words:

Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.

Sadly, in present day society, invisible chains of misunderstanding and shackles of discrimination continue to bind individuals who face mental health challenges.  Hopefully, one day soon, the current restraints to kindness, understanding, and support of those individuals will be overcome by caring, empathetic hearts.

For meeting updates and current information, consult a support group’s website or contact person.


NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is a national organization with state and local affiliates that offers mental health peer support groups and an abundance of education, leadership, and advocacy opportunities.

Personally, NAMI afforded me the opportunity to become a state trainer for the “NAMI Connection Recovery Peer Support” program and to facilitate those groups, and to become a “Peer-to-Peer” trainer and an “In Our Own Voice” presenter.  NAMI is the second organization to be featured in “Time to Talk”.

My connection with NAMI began when a friend introduced me to its Rowan County affiliate.  Later Julie Whittaker, co-contributor to this column, and I attended what was NAMI Forsyth at that time.  Now Davie, Stokes, Davidson, and Forsyth counties comprise the NAMI NW Piedmont affiliate.  Julie and I serve on its board.

The president of NAMI NW Piedmont, Louise Whealton, provided the following about NAMI.

“NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), began in the late 1970s with two women in a cafe who realized each had a son with a mental illness. From such grassroots grew a nationally recognized organization that educates, supports, advocates and finances research on behalf of those with a mental health diagnosis and their families.

“No one can remember exactly when local affiliate, NAMI NW Piedmont, NC, began. By the mid-1990s, we were regularly facilitating family support groups and teaching family education courses. In 2022, we officially serve Davie, Forsyth, and Stokes counties and have started programming in Davidson County.

“In addition to offering support groups for families and individuals diagnosed with a mental health condition, volunteers teach NAMI-developed educational courses for families and individuals.

“NAMI members in Davie County comment at county commissioners’ meetings and participate in the Davie County Mental Health Advocates. Members of our affiliate helped create our CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) program for first responders. We participate with the Mental Health Collaborative, a group that meets to share mental health resources. We helped plan and support the Forsyth County Stepping Up program that helps mentally ill individuals transition from jail to community living again. We helped develop and serve as advocates with the Forsyth County Mental Health Court. NAMI members also serve on committees with our LME/MCOs (Local Management Entity/Managed Care Organizations). Details about some of these programs will be explained in future articles.

“No one in NAMI NW Piedmont, NC, is a licensed mental health professional; everyone is a volunteer. However, we all have a family member with a mental illness or have a mental health diagnosis. Our strength lies in the training NAMI NC offers that prepares us to lead NAMI programs, our grassroots knowledge of local resources, and our willingness to listen.”

Visit naminwpiedmontnc.org.

Glenda Smith is a mental wellness advocate

who lives near Mocksville.