The Marion Polk chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) is looking for adult volunteers to share their experiences with mental health challenges at local schools. 

The new program is called Ending the Silence. Volunteers take part in training that will prepare them to share their personal stories about struggles with mental health or loving someone who does. 

 “For volunteers, it is a day-long training and starts with facilitators working with them to tell their story. By the end, they’ve had opportunities to highlight different aspects of their story for different audiences, respond to questions and do some roleplaying,” said Brenna Bandstra, a NAMI trainer and presenter. 

Once volunteers pass through the course, they are paired with another regular NAMI volunteer to visit local classrooms. 

“[Volunteering] is all peer-based,” said Sarah Zecchini, another NAMI trainer and presenter. “We don’t focus on clinical backgrounds, it’s more about lived experience. As long as you have lived with mental health issues or loved someone who has.”

To volunteer or sign up for any of NAMI’s multitude of mental health support offerings, contact Bandstra or Zecchini at [email protected] or visit the group’s new website at namior.org.

NAMI is a network of mental health advocacy, research, support and education. It represents those living with major depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder. Annual membership is $40 per individual or $5 for those with financial need. 

Zecchini discovered NAMI when fighting her own battles with mental health, she was introduced to the group while in recovery and volunteered to be a presenter after making it to a more stable place. Now, volunteering with NAMI is one of the tools she uses to stay grounded. 

“When I teach these courses, I get to help people understand what it means to deal with mental illness. It has helped me normalize myself and my own feelings. When you are in that space, there is no logic to the thoughts. When I have to repeat what I went through as a presenter, I have a constant reminder that these things can be handled with responses other than flight or fight,” Zecchini said.  

Bandtra’s journey to becoming a NAMI presenter started after the sudden death of her brother who she saw battle with schizoaffective disorder. 

“[NAMI] gave me hope after my brother passed away and it helps me be more supportive. Every class I teach humbles me and brings me down to earth. It’s helped me be more aware of what loved ones are feeling and how I can help,” she said. 

Other resources offered locally through NAMI are:

• Family Support Group on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month from 1-2:30 p.m. at Salem Hospital on the sixth floor of Building A. Family members and friend of those with mental health challenges are welcome. 

• The NAMI Marion-Polk Connection Peer Support Group, a weekly 90-minute recovery support group program for adults living with a mental illness. The peer-led group provides a place where people learn from one another’s experience, share coping strategies and offer mutual encouragement. Meetings are held every Monday from 5:15 to 6:45 p.m. at the Recovery Outreach Community Center at 2555 Silverton Road N.E. in Salem.

• Family to Family, a 12-week course for family members of individuals living with severe mental illness. Presenters provide information on the clinical treatment of mental illnesses and teach the knowledge and skills that family members need to care for themselves as well as their loved ones. 

• In Our Own Voice is a 90-minute interactive, multimedia presentation by individuals living with mental illness that offers hope and provides insight into the recovery process. Presentations can be scheduled in schools, workplaces or during community gatherings. 

“All the support programs are evidence-based,” Bandstra said. 

“And the focus is on two things: they are not alone and this is what can be done,” added Zecchini.