Grassroots: Building a Grassroots Puzzle

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September 6, 2018

Starting a grassroots mental health organization is kind of like creating your own puzzle. One of the most challenging pieces is managing your own mental health in the process. “I think I am doing well,” I told my therapist as I was leaving his office. “Much improved from last month!” he replied. As I dodge raindrops on my way out to my car, I know we are both right. I have been battling medication adjustments for the last year. However, the recent medication changes my psychiatrist made seem to be working. I still have some anxiety, but as my therapist said, “Some anxiety keeps you on your toes”. I am comforted by the fact that my boss recognizes that living with a mental illness is a daily struggle. In one presentation we did together she said, “Living with mental illness is a full-time job.”

Puzzle Pieces

Another piece of the puzzle is a lack of competition when it comes to resources in a rural county. As I plug in my phone at home, I see that we don’t have any internet access. “Still?” I say to my husband. “Why does this happen every time it rains?” As an affiliate, we are not big enough to have a formal office yet.

I can’t help but think about the bookmarks that my sister and I are working on. Rats, I think to myself. Will we get them completed in time for the Health Fair? You don’t have the infrastructure of an affiliate in a larger county. You only have a handful of people. You have yet to start fundraising. You see so many needs, but you don’t have the resources to fill them yet. Lack of infrastructure missing piece in the puzzle.

Two hours before the support group meeting tonight, I think to myself. I have got to remember to give the key to Vera* so she can cover for me on Thursday. Because of how the calendar falls, we have two support group meetings in the same week! I have to go speak at a local organization. Vera will have to cover for me on Thursday night for the Connection Support Group meeting. I have to find out how Brittany* is doing from Vera, I think to myself. She has been going through a rough time.

When Some are Missing

Because income levels and resources are more limited in a rural county, people can fall through the cracks. Some of the attendees would like for us to offer more of the advanced National Alliance on Mental Illness classes. We simply don’t have the people to do so. “It’s not about where you see a need,” one NAMI Program Director told me once, “It’s where you have the volunteers who are excited about meeting that need.” It’s the “grassroots puzzle piece” in a grassroots mental health organization.

At least we have people coming, I think to myself. I remember in the beginning when it was just me and one other woman. I thought she stopped coming because she was so tired of just seeing me! Then I got a text from her after I sent her a reminder, “I miss you! I’ve just been crazy busy.”

As I look around the table at the three other faces as we begin the support group meeting, it hits me. If I hadn’t worked to get this NAMI affiliate started, none of us would be here. We may still be small. We may have our daily challenges. Some people may want us to do more than we can. And yes, I will have to struggle daily with my own mental illness, but we are making a difference in people’s lives. People are the most important pieces of the puzzle. That’s what really matters.

* Names have been changed to protect identities.

Danei Edelen

Danei Edelen

Danei Edelen lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. Danei is Executive Director of the newly formed NAMI Brown County Ohio affiliate. She also is a mental health columnist for the Brown County News Democrat and The Clermont Sun. She has a bachelor's degree, over 20 years in marketing, serves as Mental Health Advocate for her county. She is also a NAMI presenter for the Southwestern Ohio chapter speaking to groups of all ages to help end the stigma. Danei enjoys, reading, writing, exercise and learning about nutrition.

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