With thousands of products from clothing to phone cases featuring the pink ribbons associated with breast cancer awareness, it’s hard to recall a time when the shame of cancer was so widespread people referred to it in whispers as the “c” word. History has it that when a woman called The New York Times in the 1950s to place an ad for a breast cancer survivors group, she was told “We can’t place such an ad because it uses the words ‘breast’ and ‘cancer.’”

Today, we still whisper about brain-based biological disorders, better known as mental illnesses. Yet, mental illnesses are more prevalent than cancer, impacting one in five Americans. Like cancer, much of what keeps people from talking about mental illness is fear and denial. While not a death sentence, as cancer was in the early twentieth century, a mental illness diagnosis can feel like a death—a dying of hopes and dreams of a productive and happy life. And, left untreated, mental illnesses can be life-threatening.

The shame of cancer ended with new research, better treatments and extensive education campaigns that focused on early detection and treatment. As people began to understand that cancer was no longer an immediate death sentence, the conversations became more hope-filled, and the shame ended.

For those of us in the mental health field, it’s hopeful to see a wave of new research with the potential for accurate diagnostic tools and more effective treatments. These advancements can help increase success in treating complex brain health issues. Like cancer in the mid twentieth century, today we are poised to end the shame associated with mental illness.

Campaigns to lessen the shame and stigma are abundant, but people are uncomfortable talking about mental health, even when talking to someone they know or love. A recent study by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute found that nine out of ten Texans think it’s harder to talk about mental health than physical health.

As part of its “Change the Conversation” campaign for Mental Health Month, NAMI Austin, the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, has developed “conversation cards.” The two-sided cards are bright, colorful and full of facts that dispel some of the most common mental health myths. They also include a list of warning signs and tips on how to start a conversation about mental health.

As the cards point out, untreated or undiagnosed mental illness causes of 90% of suicides, the second leading cause of death in ages 15 to 24. This fact amplifies our urgent need to start talking about mental health, especially as young people experience increased levels of depression and anxiety.

With that in mind, NAMI Austin’s featured Mental Health Month event on May 24 is Hope Heals: An Evening with Kevin Hines. At age 19, Kevin survived a suicide attempt from a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, one of only 1% of people to do so. Kevin understands the importance of talking about mental health. His message of hope and healing is certain to inspire our community to begin those difficult, awkward but often life-saving conversations that start with “I’m worried about you. Are you okay?”

Twenty years from now, I trust we will add mental illness to the list of health issues that our communities once whispered about. It can begin today with a commitment to change the conversation around mental health, and the change will save lives.

By Karen Ranus, executive director of NAMI Austin. Click here to learn more about NAMI Austin’s conversation cards or details for Mental Health Month events.  If you’d like to make conversation cards available in your office, faith community or school, email info@namiaustin.org. 

NAMI Austin is proud to recognize long-time volunteer Emily Wilcox for her eight years of service as a NAMI Basics and Family-to-Family teacher, a Family Support Group facilitator, and a Family & Friends and Parents & Teachers as Allies presenter. Her passion for mental health education is apparent as she has taught 5 classes, given over 20 presentations and facilitated a support group for 2 years.
“I love letting others know they are not alone. And more than anything, I love to see the healing begin as we educate, support and bring hope to people. ” -Emily
And while she’s taking care of other families, she is also taking care of herself. Teaching others energizes her and engages her with the community, allowing her to practice self-care while giving back to the community.
“Volunteering for NAMI Austin has been one of the best self-care decisions I could have ever made.” -Emily
Are you interested in volunteering with NAMI Austin? Attend a volunteer information session.

With a $30,000 match from a generous donor, we are raising a total of $60,000 with the help of donors like you, people who support the mental health of our entire community.

In addition to the match, Facebook is waiving all processing fees for donations made on #GivingTuesday. It is truly one of the best days to give! Plus, gifts may qualify for an additional match from the Gates Family Foundation.

Go to facebook.org/namiaustin to give #MentalHealthHope this season.

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At the 2017 Annual Meeting on November 30, NAMI Austin will honor our 2017 Award recipients. These individuals are outstanding advocates for mental health and NAMI Austin’s mission. We are grateful to them for their dedication to changing the conversation around mental health in our community.

Wayne Sneed | John & Kitty Holman Award

Wayne has served as Chief of Internal Affairs Section for the Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General. Wayne has served as Chief of Internal Affairs Section for the Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General.

He began his law enforcement career as a police officer with the San Marcos Police Department in 1982.  During his service with San Marcos Police Department, he served, created and was promoted into many positions including a secondary level supervisor. He currently serves as a member of the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Board.

Wayne received his Bachelor of Criminal Justice and Business Management degrees from Texas State University. He is a Certified Inspector General with the National Association of Inspector Generals and has a Certified Public Manager designation from the William P. Hobby Center for Public Service at Texas State University.

He has over 35 years of service with both criminal justice and law enforcement agencies and was recently appointed as a Gubernatorial Board Member Appointee to the “Texas Juvenile Justice Advisory Board” by Governor Greg Abbott (2017).


Valerie Milburn | Harold Scogin Sunshine Award

Valerie Milburn is a person in long-term dual recovery, who devotes her time to reducing stigma associated with mental health disorders. She is involved with a number of non-profits in the recovery and mental health communities, with a focus on NAMI Austin and Communities for Recovery. For NAMI Austin, Valerie is a peer-to- peer mentor and a presenter for Ending the Silence and In Our Own Voice. She has also coordinated special events for NAMI Austin, and has been a NAMI Walk team captain. She is the Board Chair for Communities for Recovery, and is also an active volunteer and a peer recovery coach with Communities for Recovery. She has received the Presidential Service Award
four times for her volunteer commitments.

Valerie is a former educator and curriculum writer, and began her career in marketing and advertising after graduating from The University of Texas at Austin.



Dr. Mathis Kennington | Community Champion Award

Dr. Mathis Kennington is a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in couple and sex therapy. Mathis is a founding partner at The Practice ATX, a specialty-driven private practice that advocates for better conversations and training in mental health. He teaches in the Master of Arts in Counseling program at St. Edwards and is the incoming president of the Texas Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.



NAMI Austin Annual Meeting
featuring Anne Grady

A two-time TEDx speaker and longtime NAMI Austin supporter, Anne Grady, inspires and educates audiences worldwide, helping them understand how to cultivate their courage, build their resilience, and triumph over adversity, obstacles, and setbacks. Anne shares her own journey as a parent of a child living with serious mental illness. Learn more about Anne Grady and join us for a celebratory evening recognizing our new Board of Directors, top NAMIWalks fundraisers and NAMI Austin award winners.




An evening of tips and tools for managing holiday stress 

Will this holiday season find you grieving the loss of a loved one, living with a chronic illness, facing financial burdens, or simply overwhelmed by the many expectations of the season? Join NAMI Austin and The Practice ATX as we host a free session in which we’ll share tips and tools for coping with the holiday blues.


Thursday, December 7, 2017
7-8:30 p.m.
Austin Presbyterian Seminary | Stott’s Hall

100 E 27th St, Austin
This event is free and open to the public!
RSVP Requested
Please share with anyone you know who could benefit from this informative event!

Throughout the year, we’ve asked Congress to stop health reform efforts that would hurt Americans with mental illness—and we’ve urged them to forge bipartisan solutions to stabilize the health insurance markets.

We have good news: Congress listened.

Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) announced a bipartisan agreement to help keep insurance markets sound and more affordable. If this bill passes, it will help protect mental health coverage for Americans with mental illness.

The Alexander-Murray bill will also keep vital patient protections in place, including stopping health plans from:

  • Dropping coverage of mental health and substance use
  • Charging higher premiums if an individual has a preexisting condition, like depression or anxiety
  • Charging more simply because a person has a mental health or substance use condition

The Alexander-Murray bill will strengthen and stabilize the health care system, reducing the risk of sharp premium increases and lack of insurance options. It maintains important cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies and financial assistance, which help low- and middle-income people pay for out-of-pocket costs and insurance premiums.

Your continued advocacy matters.

Contact your senators and tell them to support this bipartisan effort and protect mental health coverage for millions of Americans.

Email now.

Monday, October 23 | 6:30-8:00 p.m.

(Meet & greet at 6:30 with event beginning at 6:45)
Austin State Hospital Nifty-Fifty Diner (Canteen)
4110 Guadalupe (map)
Officer Jaime Von Seltmann & Officer Randy Hunt | Austin Police Department, Crisis Intervention Team
Sgt. Greg Sizmore | Travis County Sheriff’s Office, Crisis Intervention Team
Laura Wilson-Slocum, LPC | Practice Administrator, Integral Care
Annie Burwell, LBSW | Director, Williamson County Outreach

When a loved one is having a mental health crisis, knowing what to do to and who to call can be challenging. This panel of both Travis and Williamson County representatives will cover a variety of topics, including: how to make a good 911 call, who responds to crisis calls and when to call, and what to expect when you call for help. This will be a highly informative event perfect for anyone who loves and cares for youth or adults who live with mental illness.

NAMI Community Education Events are free and open to the public. Please share this event and invite a friend to learn about this topic and NAMI Austin.


by Senator Kirk Watson for the Austin-American Statesman

Sen. Kirk Watson D-Austin during a visit to a Red Cross Shelter set up to accommodate people seeking refuge from Hurricane Harvey on August 26, 2017

As Hurricane Harvey hit Texas a couple weeks ago, I visited the Delco Center to spend time with evacuees who were facing an unknown but excruciating loss.

I talked with a young woman who was there with her children and mother, but she didn’t know where her dad was. He’d stayed behind.  When we visited, she hadn’t heard from him and was frightened about what might have happened.  She worried about what, if anything, she and her family would return to.

Then there was the father who was cradling his 5-week old infant son and concerned about supporting his family and what he’d need to do to recover.

A group of children sat on the concrete floor watching movies projected on a wall.  I returned later with rugs and pillows to make their space a little more comfortable, along with books, games and jumping ropes so that they’d have some activities to pass the time.  Every kid’s routine, even school attendance, was in disarray.

The Delco Center was filled with many fearful, anxious people whose lives had been completely upended by a disaster. Of course, they were only a small portion of those facing uncertain and difficult futures.

For those who lived through Harvey and its aftermath, this storm is likely to become the “before and after” for their lives.

Research shows most people who live through a disaster recover fully, but some will develop mental health issues, especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, researchers determined that 30-50% of all survivors suffered from PTSD and 36% of Katrina-affected children showed serious emotional disturbances. In addition, a post-Katrina survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 25 percent of respondents lived with someone who needed mental health counseling but fewer than 2% received it.

The data from Katrina reminds us that Harvey’s survivors will need attention and care far into the future. Mental health issues tend to be underreported in the immediate aftermath because such symptoms are typically not expressed for weeks or months after a traumatic event.

As we shelter our coastal neighbors affected by Harvey, I’m proud to support the work of our local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI Austin provides free classes and support groups for individuals and families living with mental health issues and offers no-cost mental health trainings and presentations in schools, workplaces and faith communities. Their work is changing the way our community talks about and addresses mental health throughout the year, and in times of disaster.

In coordination with other nonprofit organizations, NAMI Austin is serving as a source of hope and help as our community assesses the mental and emotional needs of our coastal neighbors, offering the best of its resources to assist the vulnerable populations of adults and children impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

On Saturday, September 23, I’m serving as the Honorary Walk Chair for the NAMI Austin’s 12th Annual NAMIWalks, the largest mental health awareness event in Central Texas. Join me as we celebrate the wellness our community creates when we encourage people to talk openly about mental health, seek help when needed and access the free mental health programs NAMI Austin offers.

Right now, we’re focusing on the physical needs of our coastal communities. There are buildings to clean, brush to clear, roads to fix and roofs to repair. But organizations like NAMI Austin remind us not to forget the long-term emotional and mental health needs of our neighbors as well.

To register for NAMIWalks Austin, visit namiwalks.org/Austin.

Donate or raise $100 & receive the 2017 NAMIWalks shirt PLUS a chance to win a $100 Academy Sports + Outdoors gift card!

When you #JoinTheMovement with NAMI Austin, you’re helping us change the way our community addresses mental health. Our free classes and support groups for families and individuals living with mental illnesses ensure that no one has to face these challenging health issues alone plus we provide no-cost educational presentations and trainings in schools, workplaces and faith communities to help diminish the stigma and raise awareness.

Between September 10 and 22, register for the Walk, donate or raise $100  and you’ll receive the 2017 NAMIWalks commemorative t-shirt AND a chance to win a $100 Academy Sports + Outdoors gift card.


We’ll see you for a fun-filled, stigma-busting Walk on September 23 at the Long Center!

Photo credit: CN

Forty-seven years later, I still have vivid memories of the devastation my hometown, Corpus Christi, endured during Hurricane Celia in 1970. My family lived on the edge of poverty, so the sense of urgency and desperation was heightened as my divorced mother tried to navigate the resources available.

Nothing quite prepares you for the aftermath of a catastrophic event, a life altering event that forever shapes one’s perspective. Catastrophic events tend to be the “before and after” by which we remember things, and they tend to impact the mental and emotional state of those affected for months and years to come.

As we welcome our neighbors from coastal towns who are calling Austin “home” for now (and possibly permanently), NAMI Austin is working in coordination with other nonprofit organizations. We are coming together to assess and address the mental and emotional needs of our guests, each organization offering the best of its resources to assist the vulnerable populations of adults and children impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

For those displaced by Hurricane Harvey, a helpful general list of resources—such as shelter, food, flood claim assistance, and real-time flood information can be found here. There is also information on how to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

As we always have, NAMI Austin will be a source of hope and help in the community by providing resources, information and support. Join us in our work by accessing and sharing these resources:


  • Disaster Distress Helpline is a 24/7, 365-day-a–year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Crisis Text Line offers free 24/7 crisis support via text message. Text NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
  • NAMI HelpLine is a free service that provides information, referrals and support to people living with a mental health condition, family members and caregivers, mental health providers and the public. The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., ET. The number is 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
  • Magellan Crisis Line is a 24-hour crisis line for all residents of Texas. The toll-free number to access free, confidential counseling services is 1-800-327-7451.

Digital Fact Sheets

I have yet to encounter anyone in this community who doesn’t have a family member or friend impacted by this devastating storm. It is inspiring and heartwarming to see the time, resources and energy our community is offering to address this crisis.

At NAMI, we remind caregivers that the race to recovery is not a sprint, but a marathon. We must take care of ourselves along the course so we have the energy to cross the finish line. Take breaks. Monitor your own physical and emotional health. Ask for help when you need it (because no one does this work alone!). Lastly, thank you for being a source of hope, help and healing in our community. I am Texan proud!

Executive Director