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NAMI-WM fight stigmas about mental illness

Ruth Stein, a founder of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Western Massachusetts Inc. (center), cuts the ribbon at the grand opening of the organization's new location on Springfield Street.
Reminder Publications photo by Katelyn Gendron
By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM On Oct. 15, the Board of Directors of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Western Massachusetts Inc. (NAMI-WM) officially opened their new facility on Springfield Street, continuing their fight against the stigmas surrounding mental illness.

Gail Wilson-Giarratano, executive director of NAMI-WM, explained that the new facility helps bring their services to the streets, literally, with their new storefront location. She said her non-profit organization is seeking to eradicate mental illness and the "don't ask, don't tell policies" surrounding those diseases.

Wilson-Giarratano noted that the opening coincides with NAMI's Mental Illness Awareness Week, which takes place during the first week of October each year to raise awareness, education and services for those with mental illness and their families.

Ruth Stein, a founder of NAMI-WM, explained that she and four others began the Western Massachusetts affiliate 25 years ago when they realized there were too few services for those suffering from mental illness in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties.

"I had a relative who needed help [with mental illness]," she recalled. "It was wonderful to meet other families [going through the same thing] to know that you were not alone.

"There is still some stigma left," Stein continued. "Some people are afraid to speak up [about their illness] and don't know where to start."

Lucille Drewnowski, financial secretary of NAMI of Western Massachusetts Inc., explained that several years ago she began attending support groups in order to better understand her son who suffered from mental illness. She said those that she met during the meetings and the services she received through NAMI were invaluable to her son and family.

NAMI-WM offers various support groups for families and friends of those with mental illness in several communities including Agawam, Chicopee, Easthampton, Florence, Greenfield, Orange, Springfield and Westfield. The organization also offers a series of free 12 weekly classes for caregivers of those with major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and co-occurring brain disorders.

NAMI-WM also has various day programs and clubhouses in communities including Florence, Holyoke, Greenfield, North Adams, Orange, Springfield and Westfield.

The organization is also inviting members of the public to a free educational seminar titled, "When Mental Illness Strikes a Family of Faith" on Oct. 31 from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Providence Behavioral Health Hospital Auditorium in Holyoke.

Those suffering from mental illness or friends and family members of people with such disease can visit the new NAMI-WM location at 324A Springfield St. from 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

For more information about NAMI-WM or support services call 786-9139 or e-mail or visit