NAMI’s national office was established in 1979, while NAMI of Erie County is a local non-profit organization established in 1984 to address the increasing need for families and individuals to have a stronger voice in the mental health system. Often, parents who have children with mental illness find themselves battling several barriers such as stigma, confusion over medical advice, and a lack of support for the family unit. However, NAMI of Erie County attempts to ease the struggle for parents by offering mental health education and support.
The agency currently offers referrals, educational programming, such as Family-to-Family, Peer-to-Peer, and several forums called Speaker Series, which highlight individuals, family members and mental health professionals presenting on various topics relating to children and families coping with mental illness. Most of these programs are offered at no cost to the community.
Our membership consists of families, consumers and friends of people with mental illnesses. Through peer directed volunteer activities, NAMI of Erie County provides education programs, support groups and self-help to enable families and individuals to become more effective self-advocates. We work with individuals, family members and professionals enabling them to gain access to vital resources and to become partners in care.
Serious mental illnesses are illnesses of the brain and can be treated successfully. We work to combat stigma and stereotyping by providing factual information to the community.
In addition, NAMI’s signature program, the Family-to-Family course began in 1994 at the local NAMI office. The first class was offered in conjunction with Mercyhurst College and included 18 family members participating in the pilot program. Since that time there have been over 600 family members educated in various church halls, college campuses, and public meeting rooms in Erie County, including the City of Erie and areas such as Fairview, Albion, Corry, and Union City.
Today, parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, children and significant others need to learn about the services available for their loved one in the mental health system, discover the latest treatments and medical research as well as connect to others sharing similar experiences. The need for the course has grown over the years since mental health providers are struggling to continue to care for children and individuals with mental illness due to shrinking budgets.