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NAMI can help those dealing with COVID-related stress.

Mental health is especially important right now. As COVID-19 ravages the world, one effect of the pandemic that often goes overlooked — due to the more noticeable damage of physical illness and death — is the toll it takes on our psychological well-being. 

“We are concerned about the mental health impacts of COVID-19. In an August survey done by the Colorado Health Foundation, 53 percent of respondents reported increased anxiety, loneliness and stress due to the pandemic,” says Kirk Woundy, associate executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Colorado Springs (and former Indy editor). “Chances are, as COVID numbers have increased through the fall, so have these impacts.”

Founded in 1977 in Virginia, NAMI was originally established to help those suffering with mental illness after being released from mental hospitals. The Colorado Springs branch was established by Stella Colby and Julie Foster six years later. 

NAMI continues to dedicate itself to its mission of providing the people of Colorado Springs with assistance and resources to manage mental illness. “With the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and AspenPointe, we are helping train hundreds of locals at large, in Dr. Chip Benight’s Greater Resilience Information Toolkit (GRIT) program [letstalkgrit.com]. A free, online, self-paced training, GRIT helps people build their resilience and also promote resilience within their personal networks, while educating them on accessible mental health supports,” says Woundy.

In addition to assisting with GRIT, NAMI has been working toward formalizing a program to support the Behavioral Health Connect (BHCON) unit of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, which responds to mental health-related calls. 

They’ve also been working with Silver Key Senior Services and the Colorado Springs Fire Department to offer mental health first aid training to people who work closely with seniors.

And, of course, “All of our education programs and support groups — now available virtually and, when possible, in person — continue to be offered at no cost to the community,” Woundy says.

He says it’s also important to know and understand that there are multiple ways to receive assistance, as well as ways in which mental well-being can be strengthened and maintained during these times. “One number that we want all Coloradans to know is 38255 — if you text the word TALK to that number, you’ll be connected with Colorado Crisis Services counselors for free, 24/7 support,” says Woundy. 

In addition to providing those living with mental illness with the help they need, NAMI aims to educate people about mental illness and address stereotypes, as those with mental illness continue to be stigmatized. “When we’re talking about mental illness, we’re often talking about a complex combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors. We’re not talking about character flaws or some kind of objective personal weakness,” says Woundy, adding that mental illness is much more common than people think. “One in five of us will experience a diagnosable mental illness in any given year. Looking at depression alone, more than 17 million people had a major depressive episode in 2017. Chances are, you already love someone who lives with a significant mental health issue — whether you know it or not.”