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Preserving Your Mental Health: Utilizing All the Tools in the Toolbox : May 19, 2020 10:12 am : Blog

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and as physical distancing continues, it is more important than ever to keep tabs on your own mental health and to check in with loved ones.

From fear over health or employment concerns to searching for relief from life’s daily social pressures – and everything in between – how people are coping may vary widely. Regardless of your circumstances, now is a great time to check in on your mental health toolbox and consider which coping resources are most effective for you.

What is a Mental Health Toolbox?

Simply put, your toolbox is a set of activities and resources that support your mental health. Because everyone’s mind and body respond differently to stress, what is effective for you may not be the same as what works for a family member or friend. 

Here are some common tools you can utilize, and how they may look for different people.


One of the most common staples in the mental health arsenal, talking is an important way we connect with others, express our need for help, and relieve the pressure of what is on our minds. This can take place through a number of channels:

Friend or Peer: A casual conversation with a friend or colleague can reduce feelings of isolation or help identify resources.

Mental Health Professional: A mental health service provider can be an objective listener while helping you to build your coping mechanisms.

Support groups: For those who prefer a group setting to talk through issues and concerns, NAMI Illinois continues to offer support groups virtually during COVID-19.

Writing: For some, simply getting thoughts out by writing an email or letter is enough to provide relief.

Exercise for Mind and Body

Meditation and exercise can both alleviate negative moods and reduce anxiety and depression.

Meditation or Prayer: Meant to focus your mind and instill calm, meditation and prayer are effective tools for many. There are a variety of free apps and websites that offer guided resources.

Music: Listening to music or playing an instrument can also provide mental focus, help you process emotions and provide a sense of calm.

Exercise: Research has shown that exercise can reduce the impact of a variety of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety and ADHD. It relaxes muscles, provides the opportunity to focus on breathing, releases endorphins and improves sleep.

Simple Movement: If a rigorous workout isn’t your thing, the benefits of a walk outside, stretching and yoga can be just as powerful. Anytime you have the opportunity to reduce muscle tension, get blood flowing and focus on a singular activity can elevate your mood.

Relax and Recharge

What can be considered relaxing varies widely from person to person. While this is just a small sampling, using a combination of strategies like these can keep you energized and promote positive thinking.

Find a Quiet Space: This might be your bedroom, basement, under a tree outside or even just a corner with noise cancelling headphones or white noise playing. Regardless of what your space looks like, giving yourself a break from external demands is particularly important.

Extra Rest: Snooze your alarm, take a power nap or just close your eyes in a dark room. During stressful times, we crave extra rest so make sure to listen to your body. Skipping a few chores around home is okay, too!

Escape into a Good Story: Reading, watching a favorite movie or series or even viewing a favorite YouTube channel can all offer the opportunity to escape into someone else’s story. This can be a chance to recharge and also to process emotions through a different medium.

Pursue a Hobby: Hobbies can offer stress relief in several different ways. Some use parts of our brain that we don’t often utilize, such as someone with an analytical job enjoying a creative hobby like painting or writing. Other activities provide the ability to focus on something repetitive to calm and soothe, like woodworking or knitting.

Support Others

One of the best ways to improve mood and outlook is to connect with your community and help others. While some activities are limited during COVID-19, there are still plenty of ways you can support those around you.

Send a Card or Treat: Whether writing to a friend or sending meals to local  first responders, sending a treat is a great way to brighten someone’s day.

Mentor Someone: There are a variety of youth, community and corporate mentoring programs, many of which continue to run remotely. Consider what you’re passionate about and what skills you have to offer, and look up organizations in your area. For example, a local college or vocational school might be looking for adults to assist with readying students for job searches and interviews. Local shelters and at-risk organizations need volunteers to help with budgeting and life skills. 

Collect Supplies: Many organizations are in need of supplies for both people and pets. Look up their wish lists and put together some care packages.

Get Crafty: What do you like to make? Charities and hospitals seek a number of items, including blankets, caps and gowns for NICU babies, face masks and toys. If you love to use your hands, there are plenty of options to choose from!

More than anything, do your best to carve out time for yourself. You may find that your typical go-to activities don’t have the same impact right now, so don’t be afraid to add some new tools to your own kit. 

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Support the Well-Being of Your Children: Parenting Tips for Challenging Times : May 19, 2020 10:11 am : Blog

As the stay-at-home order continues in Illinois, parents are juggling a variety of roles, tackling both work and personal responsibilities, acting as teachers, and seeking new ways to access support services during an extended period of uncertainty.

In NAMI’s recent Ask the Expert Webinar, Dr. Meghan Walls, a pediatric psychologist, provided a framework for supporting children of all ages during physical distancing. Most importantly, extending some extra grace to both kids and ourselves is paramount. The following are a few recommendations that can cultivate a positive environment for everyone.

Keep Dialogue Open

Family meetings are a useful way to check in with everyone. While the depth of information shared will vary by the age of your children, open communication can alleviate the concerns and anxiety kids may be feeling. The goal is to ask questions to ensure you are aware of issues and concerns while providing useful information and support. Focus on three areas of discussion:

What’s Going on in the House? Are people working at home, or is someone newly unemployed? Are some family members essential workers? What school and extracurricular activities are taking place virtually? 

What Are the Stressors? This can vary widely by age. A younger child may miss a fun class or playgroups. Adolescents and teens may have questions about seeing a boyfriend or girlfriend, or concerns about missing sports or school milestones. It is okay for kids to know that there may be pressure on parents as well.

What Are the Expectations? Making sure everyone understands the responsibilities of all family members is the best way to set up success.

While as parents we cannot “fix” some of the losses our children are experiencing during this time, we can reassure them that this is temporary. It may be awhile before things feel “normal” but there will be opportunity to slowly expand our circles.

Routine is Key

Keeping a familiar structure provides a sense of security and familiarity – and don’t worry if your schedule isn’t straight from Pinterest. While the schedules floating around our social channels can be a good starting point for some families, Dr. Walls noted that parents should keep reasonable expectations. 

Sleep Schedules: Try to keep bedtimes within an hour or two of normal. In the morning, use an alarm or wake kids up within a similar timeframe as well.

Meals: Do your best to maintain healthy eating habits, including consistent meal times. Just like we need to keep healthy sleep habits, it is important to make sure parents and kids alike are still eating at regular intervals throughout the day.

School and Chores: Create a consistent daily schedule to support required schoolwork and encourage engagement. However, be flexible. Just as adults struggle at times with productivity, it is unrealistic to expect kids to sit for long periods working.

Build in Rewards: Provide breaks for a favorite activity and time to move. For younger children, rewards might also include stickers or treats, while older kids may prefer extra screen time or opportunities to call friends.

Seek Opportunities for Socialization

While physical distancing is necessary, we still want to provide opportunities for social interactions. Thankfully, many organizations have pivoted to provide activities virtually. A local sports team may be holding remote workouts at scheduled times. Some Scout troops and school clubs are meeting online. If formal opportunities aren’t in place, how could your child and friends create their own?

Consider what social media tools might be appropriate for kids to interact, or offer access to other online game or video platforms. Recognize that even adolescents may have difficulty establishing contact, so talk through ways to stay connected.

Don’t Sweat the Screens

While we don’t want to go overboard, it is okay if your kids are spending some extra time in front of a screen these days. Between schoolwork, socialization and time needed to complete your own work, online time is going to be higher than normal.

If you do see your children struggling with their mental health, reach out for support. NAMI Illinois, mental health providers, and other like-minded organizations are providing virtual and telehealth services during this pandemic.

Looking for more? You can access the webinar and transcript here.

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Running an Affiliate During a Pandemic : May 18, 2020 12:00 pm : Blog

Teena Mackey, President of NAMI Will-Grundy for the past 6 years, is seeing firsthand the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on NAMI affiliates. She shares her observations here.

As the leader of NAMI Will-Grundy, what changes have you seen since the advent of the Coronavirus?

Initially, as a result of the shelter-in-place order our calls for support actually diminished; the tendency to isolate is a typical reaction to the triggers of symptoms of mental illness, so the directive to stay at home was accomplished fairly easily and individuals generally reported “I’m okay, I feel safe here at home.” 

As time goes on, however, the pitfalls of isolation have begun to occur. Individuals report loneliness, increased anxiety and racing thoughts that include a concern of “What if this goes on for months? What’s going to happen to me?” Usually people can reach out and attend a peer support group, but at this time we are limited to phone calls and online support groups. While this new style of support is helpful, becoming online “savvy” in and of itself can be intimidating and a trigger to anxiety.

Additionally, we are finding that many of those who participate in our peer support groups lack the technology to effectively participate on a zoom platform. Many have the “government phone” which does not support video, and a vast number cannot afford laptop computers and the cable access needed to support them.   

At NAMI Will-Grundy, we are eager to help consumers get the technology they need. We sort of take for granted that everyone has a computer and Wi-Fi access and we are finding that this is not the case.  

You are also a Family Support Group facilitator and have transitioned to co-leading groups online. What adjustments did you have to make in the online environment?

The topics do not differ much, but the anxiety that stems from a feeling of having a lack of control over your life occurs much more often. People are unsure if and when this COVID-19 pandemic will end, and there is constant fear about their loved ones becoming ill and dying OR of their isolation triggering a suicide attempt.

Body language and facial communication is such an important part of communication and these can be more difficult to read in the online format. It also becomes more incumbent on me as the facilitator to make sure that one or two people do not dominate the discussion and to make certain that everyone gets a chance to participate. This can be a bit more of a challenge in the online effort.   

I find that we need to be particularly patient with the process! Folks are joining support from their homes and tend to be a little less formal than if they are getting dressed and leaving home to venture out into the community; smoking and eating while talking are much more common than in an in-person experience! But that’s okay – it’s just good that they’re there.

As you look to the not-too-distant future, what impact do you think COVID-19 will have in how NAMI affiliates will operate?

I think that there will continue to be an online support group effort. As we become more comfortable with the use of the technology, the online option can continue to serve individuals diagnosed with a mental illness and their families/caretakers who, for whatever reason, are unable to attend an in-person support group. We’ll now have another way to meet people where they’re at.

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Mental Wellness in Stressful Times – Resources & Support : May 18, 2020 12:00 pm : Blog

NAMI Resources

Illinois Resources

  • Illinois Call4Calm Text Line: If you or a loved one are struggling with stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic and need emotional support, text TALK to 552020 for English or HABLAR for Spanish. This service is free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People seeking assistance will remain anonymous and will provide only their first name and zip code, which enables the service to link you to a counselor in your area who is knowledgeable about available local resources.
  • Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline: Available via text or call daily at 877-863-6338.
  • Illinois Helpline for Opioids & Other Substances: If you or someone you know is suffering from an opioid use disorder or other substance use disorders, call the Illinois Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances at 1-833-2FINDHELP to speak with a trained professional for support and advice or to be directed to customized resources or visit
  • Illinois Warm Line: If you or one of you family members has mental health and/or substance use challenges and would like to receive support by phone, call the Illinois Warm Line at 866-359-7953. Wellness Support Specialists are professionals who have experienced mental health and/or substance use recovery in their own lives. They are trained in recovery support, mentoring, and advocacy and are ready to listen and support you. The Warm Line is not a crisis hotline, but is a source of support as you recover or help a family member to recover.  Hours of Operation: Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm except holidays

National Resources

  • CARES Line (24 hour): If your child is a risk to themselves or others, having a mental health crisis, or if you would like a referral to services for children, youth, and families, call the 24 hour Crisis and Referral Entry Services (CARES) line to talk to a mental health professional. Call: 1 (800) 345-9049 TTY: 1 (773) 523-4504
  • Crisis Text Line: The Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, 24-hours a day. Text NAMI to: 741741. Trained crisis counselors will respond and help you.
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline (24 hour): If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, you may call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255). Caring staff will connect you with the closest possible crisis center in your area.
  • National Helpline | SAMHSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Free and confidential treatment referral and information service available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. 1-800-622-4357 (HELP)
  • National Runaway Safeline: This 24-hour 7 day a week national Safeline is for youth at risk of running away or already have and are looking for help. 1-800-Runaway (786-2929) or text: 66008
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) Helpline: 800-662-4357 or 800-958-5990
  • Veteran’s Crisis Line: To reach caring, qualified responders within the Department of Veterans Affairs connect with the Veterans Crisis Line. Many of them are Veterans themselves. This free support is confidential, available 24/7, and serves all veterans, service members, National Guard and Reserve, and their families and friends. Call 1-800-273-8255 or Text: 838255, Support for deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889. Online Chat is Available:
  • We Know The Feeling (Problem Gambling): If you or someone you know is suffering from gambling disorder, call 1.800.GAMBLER, text ILGAMB TO 53342, or visit to be connected to resources and treatment programs


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Get to Know Samantha Herrell : April 14, 2020 12:54 pm : Blog

Meet Samantha Herrell, a facilitator of NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group who is now facilitating online support groups for NAMI in Illinois. In addition to her work with Connection, Samantha is an In Our Own Voice presenter and Board of Directors member at NAMI Mid-Central Illinois.

Recently, Samantha participated in a virtual interview with NAMI Illinois to share some of her insights on being a volunteer for NAMI.

How easy or difficult was it to move from leading a group in-person to being an online facilitator?
Online facilitating seems like the difficulties are found in things that are outside of our control: the technology. Slow internet (or at moments, lack thereof) and helping others figure out how to work things at their end have caused a few delays. Everyone in my group at the time has been very patient and understanding, using humor to help while my internet has its tantrum. Nothing else has been difficult about the group. It’s a great way to keep up with each other.

What makes an online group different from an in-person one?
I think the online group has to be a lot more controlled. We can only see a fraction of what is going on with a person. We cannot see body language or control who else is in the room. We can ask and set guidelines, and the rest is trusting that they are being followed.

What would you tell someone who has never come to a group regarding Connection groups?
Most things are worth trying at least once. I would recommend sitting in, even if you don’t feel like speaking. Encourage a friend or family member to participate with you. I believe it to be a rewarding experience. I’ve met people through NAMI who I’ve been friends with for years. You never know where your next connection could stem from.

What is the benefit of that support group?
Support groups are a chance for people to become connected to another person and see that we are not alone in our battles, and we can improve ourselves and those around us by continuing to better ourselves. Support Groups are not about changing someone’s behaviors or making them talk about all the trauma they’ve experienced. It’s a way to have help in building a base to talk about mental health at your own pace.

What do you like most about being a Connection facilitator?
When I first started, I loved that I was doing this with friends. Some of the people that are the dearest to my heart are facilitators or are on the board with my local NAMI. I loved being able to help our community together. Now, not only did I gain that experience, but I believe facilitating helps me maintain peace with my own mental illness.

What are the challenges of being a facilitator?
Some challenges I have faced before are as simple as having a bad episode on a day where I’m supposed to facilitate. The question arises: Do I push myself or do I ask for help? I have people that could help me but they won’t know that I’m not okay today if I don’t reach out. However, if I’m not doing well, being at group is most likely the best place for me to be. Connections is a program run by peers. While I am the professional at the table, I’m still human.

How are you taking care of yourself right now?
Since I am still working, I haven’t been concerned about being ‘bored.’ I think not being able to go anywhere has allowed me to save money and that feels great. I’ve been visiting with my brother often at safe distances and doing a lot of gaming with online friends. With us being quarantined, I don’t even have to feel guilty about it.

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A Message from Illinois Department of Human Services about COVID-19 Shelter in Place and Homeless Services : March 23, 2020 4:19 pm : Blog

Dear Partners,

Today, Governor Pritzker issued a Shelter in Place Executive Order that will go into effect tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. I want to share with you what this means for IDHS and our community partners and to provide some guidance for your organizations. Further, we are pleased to announce additional resources that IDHS will deploy across the state to ensure the health and safety of people who are experiencing homeless.

Illinois’ Shelter in Place Order does not alter the current operations, budget principles, or any of the recent guidance that you have received from IDHS Divisions and programs.

Our Division Directors and their staff may be sending out additional information in light of the new Shelter In Place Order. However, the Order is not intended to amend the current practices of IDHS programs and services. IDHS programs and services are covered under Essential Services that include Human Services Operations and Health Care Operations.

As a reminder, IDHS has temporarily closed its on-site local Rehabilitation Services’ (DRS) offices and scaled down staffing levels at its on-site Family and Community Resource Center (FCRCs) local offices to align with the health and safety guidance by public health officials. Services are still available.

Finally, I am pleased to share that IDHS is making $6 million available throughout the state for isolation housing for people experiencing homelessness through local Continuums of Care. IDHS is also increasing existing homeless service providers’ funding by 5% to increase capacity during this crisis.

We continue to welcome feedback from our provider community and encourage comments, questions, or concerns to be sent to

More information about COVID-19 is available at CoronaVirus.Illinois.Gov and through the COVID-19 Hotline, at 1-800-889-3931.

Thank you, again, for all that you do.


Grace B. Hou
Secretary, IDHS

Illinois Department of Human Services |

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Contact Your State Senator About COVID-19 : March 20, 2020 12:18 pm : Blog

As the Senate considers much-needed COVID-19 relief, please urge your Senators to ensure people affected by mental illness can maintain their treatment, get health and mental health coverage, have access to safe housing, and are supported by the nonprofits they trust and depend on.

We need you to ask your U.S. Senators to do 4 things:

1. Remove barriers to mental health treatment. People need ways to manage existing mental health conditions and maintain mental wellness while reducing their exposure to the coronavirus. To do this, Congress should:

  • Eliminate all barriers to widely implementing telehealth in all public and private health plans and encourage all health plans to provide extended supplies and/or mail order refills of prescriptions. Both actions will help people with mental illness avoid the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
  • Approve funding for Emergency Response Grants at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to assist states in continuing to provide treatment for people with mental health conditions and substance use disorders.

2. Promote coverage for health and mental health care. People with mental health conditions are often uninsured or face barriers to getting needed treatment and supports. These challenges are even greater during a crisis. To address this, Congress should:

  • Immediately launch a special enrollment period for commercial health insurance in the Marketplace ( to make sure people have access to affordable, quality health care coverage.
  • Require the use of “presumptive eligibility,” which allows certain providers like hospitals and clinics to enroll people in Medicaid that they believe meet eligibility criteria.
  • Ensure free COVID-19 testing and treatment for everyone, including people who are uninsured.

3. Ensure safe housing for people with severe mental illness. Many people with severe mental illness experience homelessness or housing insecurity and are uniquely vulnerable to being exposed to the virus and outbreaks in shelters or encampments. With the loss of steady income, many more individuals are also at risk of losing housing. Congress must act by:

  • Providing $5 billion to serve people who are homeless and help them stay safe and healthy during this emergency.
  • Approving an additional $5 billion to provide rapid rehousing for people who are at immediate risk of becoming homeless and funding for rental assistance to help low-income renters weather this crisis.
  • Putting a temporary stop on evictions to ensure that renters and homeowners maintain stable housing during this crisis.

4. Support nonprofits’ capacity to serve. The economic impact of this crisis will also touch charitable organizations like NAMI organizations and our partners. Nonprofits need support to meet greater demand and fill important gaps during this time. To assist, Congress should:

  • Provide targeted assistance to 501(c)3 organizations to help them keep their doors open during this crisis and offer paid leave to their employees.

Your Senators need to hear from you TODAY. Please contact them now to ensure people with mental illness are helped in their response to COVID-19.

Together, we can ensure that no one in our community is left behind.

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Who Represents Me?

Katelyn Foehner : March 12, 2020 3:28 pm : Blog

You want to let your state legislators know your position on a bill related to mental health, but who is it that represents you in Springfield? Or perhaps you remember the name of your state senator, but don’t know how to reach out. Turns out that all you need to know is your address.

Just go to Find My Elected Officials and put in your address and you’ll get all the contact information for both your state and federal representatives and senators.

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Stop the Revolving Door of Homelessness in Illinois

Katelyn Foehner : March 12, 2020 3:22 pm : Blog

All too often people with severe mental illnesses are homeless and cycle in and out of a sad revolving door, from homeless shelters to the street and then to jail or the ER and back. To address this problem, area legislators have introduced two sets of bills to increase the supply of supportive housing for people with severe mental illnesses. NAMI Illinois’ 2020 legislative agenda includes supporting bills that address housing for people living with mental illnesses.

Many studies have shown that replacing this revolving door with supportive housing and wrap-around services results in much better outcomes. Once people are housed, visits to the ER are significantly reduced and often eliminated altogether. Arrests and time in jail are also reduced and often eliminated. And it costs much less money than the revolving door does.

The first legislation to address this problem is HB5465, sponsored by Representatives Deb Conroy, Kathleen Willis and others. This bill proposes to set up a pilot program to provide supportive housing for the heaviest users of mental health services who are caught in that revolving door. The legislation will provide rent subsidies paired with funding for the wrap-around services people need.

The second is a pair of bills, HB 5554, sponsored by Representative Delia Ramirez, and its companion in the Senate, SB3787, sponsored by Senator Mattie Hunter. These bills will create a state low-income housing tax credit, or LIHTC, similar to the one that already exists at the federal level. Under this legislation, investors can buy fungible credits to apply against their state income taxes, with the money raised from these sales going to the Illinois Housing Development Authority to create more affordable housing. The bill’s supporters estimate it will lead to the creation of 3,500 homes and apartments per year. Many of those would be supportive housing apartments for people living with a mental illness or other disability.

Passage of these bills can make a real difference in the lives of so many people mental illness who hit a wall when looking for housing. Please consider letting your state legislators know that you want them to support these bills. Find out who your representative is here:

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Meet Alyx, an In Our Own Voice Presenter

Katelyn Foehner : January 13, 2020 3:31 pm : Blog

Even as a young child, Alyx Kesselring can remember feeling depressed. And with grades that fluctuated from A’s down to D’s, it’s easy to look at her school record and see when she was in the midst of a depressive episode. Yet, it wasn’t until she was an adult and experienced a major, three-month long manic episode that she received the proper diagnosis of Bipolar 1. As she describes her time in mania, “I flew high and fast, but felt hate with the world and everyone in it and it showed in my behavior . . . The inside of my head was a bad neighborhood.”

Fortunately, with the correct diagnosis, Alyx was able to move into recovery through a multi-faceted approach to her illness that included medication, intensive outpatient treatment, ongoing therapy, and self-care. The end result of this plan? Alyx has moved to a place of acceptance of her illness. “For me acceptance is a daily decision. Acceptance is not a destination for me. It’s something I have to actively choose.”

In 2019, she chose to become an In Our Own Voice presenter for NAMI Cook County North Suburban. In state training, she learned to tell her story in an honest and engaging fashion that enables her audience to see her not as “Alyx, the mentally ill person” but as “Alyx, a great person who happens to have a mental illness.”  Among the things she celebrates as successes are those times when she can educate others about mental illness.

Thanks to Alyx for making a difference!

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