ScOOPS! ~ Opening New Doors: NAMI

At the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) NYS 2018 Education Conference I was a guest and Featured Author.  More significant than anything specific that I said or did is this: to the best of my knowledge, it was the first time a sexual health educator was ever invited to present at a NAMI conference.  Since my personal goal is to get vital conversations about sexuality and sexual health to become more mainstream, being a key player in blazing this pathway through this newly opened door deeply honors me.  Throughout the weekend, my underlying message was that I am trying to change the way our society talks about sexuality and sexual health, emphasizing the positive impact I’ve witnessed from helpful conversations and the negative impacts of not effectively addressing the subject, and participants welcomed this message.

During my presentation, I shared a story from the chapter Please Don’t Bite The Nurse.  It’s about a woman who struggled with her own violence; her kids had been removed from her care, she had been restrained in a psych ward for biting a nurse. Yet when she was released to go home to her male partner there was no discussion about whether or not she desired pregnancy (she didn’t!) and no offer to review contraception (she had basic misinformation about her method).  Missing opportunities to be helpful to some of the members of our society who struggle most—during institutional confinement and during discharge planning—is typical.  I believe that awareness is the first step to creating systemic change, so I saw this opportunity to share my hopes, visions, and experiences with the NAMI community as vital.

I’ve been to many sexuality conferences, but I’d never been to a NAMI conference before.  I was impressed.  Being there felt paradoxically familiar and new, with striking parallels. At NAMI, there was talk about the importance of seeing mental health as a vital component of overall health that is often overlooked or inadequately addressed; about how essential it is for insurance to cover these vital health concerns; about the importance of having services accessible to those in need.  Rights without access are not rights.  There was an emphasis on reducing shame and stigma; on talking about issues openly; on the need for more research; on advocating for essential education and legislation; on reaching out to our representatives and holding them accountable; on voting. Change the phrase ‘mental health’ to ‘sexual health’ in each of the messages and they could have been presenting at a sex ed conference!  So many of the issues, challenges, and pathways to a better tomorrow are the same.

Since 1979, NAMI has grown from a small group of families into the nation’s leading voice on mental health.  NAMI educates, advocates, listens and leads.  To find your local branch and to learn more, read about NAMI.

In the words of NAMI NYS, Hope Starts with You.  Thank you, NAMI NYS for hosting me, and congratulations on a successful conference.

Don’t Forget to VOTE!!!!