Recently, Freedom Ticket interviewed the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Minnesota’s Criminal Justice Project Director Anna Meyer to learn more about mental illness and local resources that offer support.
What is NAMI?
is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with mental illness and their families. We offer free classes and support groups throughout the state. We also advocate for policy changes to create more community mental health programs and services, improve access to services, increase opportunities for recovery, reduce stigma and discrimination, and increase public understanding of mental illness.
In your work, how have you seen mental illnesses impact the lives of residents in corrections facilities?
Mental illness affects everyone in some way. One in four adults will have a mental illness at some point in their lives. Mental illnesses are even more common in corrections facilities. Both in and out of facilities, anxiety and depression are the most common mental illnesses among adults.
Many people who have mental illnesses also use alcohol or illegal drugs. In corrections facilities, three out of four people who have a mental illness also use alcohol or drugs. For many people, this combination easily leads to a cycle of repeated problems with the law.
Most corrections facilities simply don’t have the resources to provide adequate mental health treatment. Mental illnesses are treatable biological brain disorders. However, it takes time to diagnose them correctly and find the right treatment for each person. Usually what works best is a combination of therapy, medication and self-care (exercise, eating well, etc.). For someone with both a mental illness and chemical use, it is important to treat both at the same time.
Another common issue is the difficulty of re-entering the community. While incarcerated, many people lose their jobs, housing, benefits and so on. Again, most facilities do not have the resources to help people get connected to necessary services before their release.
Finally, many people in corrections facilities have asked me about family members, especially children, who have challenging behavior or a mental illness. A lot of parents want more information about how to get a good diagnosis for their child and how to help their child succeed in school and at home.
What about the impact on their families on the outside?
When crime is discussed in the media, the impact on families isn’t usually talked about. However, NAMI gets calls from concerned family members of incarcerated people almost every day.
Whether you are a family member or incarcerated yourself, arming yourself with information is important. Two of NAMI Minnesota’s booklets can help:
The first is Advocating for People with Mental Illnesses in the Criminal Justice System, which provides information about advocating for someone with a mental illness at each step in the criminal justice system, from arrest to re-entry.
The second is Hope for Recovery, which provides information about mental health resources in Minnesota, from health benefits to housing.
NAMI also has many other fact sheets and booklets. These are available online at no cost
or by calling our office at 651.645.2948 or 1.888.NAMI.HELPS.
How can NAMI Minnesota help residents, or their families, who are affected by mental illness?
NAMI provides free support groups and classes for people living with mental illnesses and for family members. You and your family are welcome to attend, as well as to join NAMI.
Also, NAMI is always advocating for policy changes, such as increased funding for mental health courts, mental health services in jails and prisons, and public defenders. Last year we helped pass a bill that clarifies that 911 operators can send a mobile mental health crisis team instead of or along with the police if someone is having a mental health crisis. We also helped pass a bill to limit the use seclusion and restraint in schools and train teachers on how to use seclusion and restraint properly. This is important to NAMI because seclusion and restraint are used more with kids who have mental illnesses than with other kids.
We are also very involved in efforts to reduce the barriers to re-entry after incarceration. We’re an active member of the Second Chance Coalition
, a group of organizations that believe punishment should end when someone’s sentence ends. You and your family are welcome to join. Email me at email@example.com to join the group or find out how you can get involved.
For more information, please call the NAMI Minnesota office 651-645-2948 or 1-888-NAMI-HELPS or visit online at www.namihelps.org