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Driving Change: The New Future of Mental Health Recap

With 273 participants from across Illinois, our first virtual conference, Driving Change: The New Future of Mental Health, was an effective vehicle to learn about both longstanding issues and the many ways COVID-19 is transforming our landscape while being energized by keynotes from Daniel Gillison, NAMI’s national CEO, and Dr. Dave Albert and other leaders from the Illinois Division of Mental Health.

We’ve already seen several workshops lead to renewed energy to launch NAMI programs in different parts of the state or accelerate action on key equity issues to ensure every Illinoisan has access to services that meet their unique needs. If you could not attend last week, you can still join the conversation. NAMI is offering complimentary registration to the Driving Change event website where you can watch presentations, download materials, and connect to others who share your interests.

Our ‘Driving Change’ theme also helped us take stock of where NAMI in Illinois stands today, as we focus on the critical next steps that will determine the New Future of Mental Health.

The good news is, we have much to look forward to, as new leadership and fast-growing public interest bring new energy to our movement while shining a spotlight on inequities we can no longer accept. When a global pandemic changed the world, our 20 affiliates and a resurgent statewide team quickly transitioned to virtual classes and support groups, while forging new alliances and shaping new strategies to get our message out to all 102 counties.

The gaps are real as well. When you visit our new website at, you’ll see that even the best efforts of our current affiliate network leave vast areas of our state without the “NAMI Near You” – the local affiliates where relationships are formed and the big issues are translated into each of our daily lives. While virtual formats like Zoom make it easier to provide support regardless of location, information and support groups are only part of the NAMI value proposition. NAMI is about people supporting people – there is an in-person, place-based element that can never be replaced.

The challenges go beyond geography. It was gratifying to see NAMI activists put critical issues of inclusion on the table. How well does our movement serve our Latinx and African American Illinoisans? Are LGBTQ+ youth getting the support they deserve? How can we go beyond telehealth to ensure rural communities have the full suite of services it takes to support mental wellness? Does our workforce and service map really look like and reflect the rich diversity of our state?

We know the answer – We have positive momentum, but a long way to go before we are the mental health movement we can and must become. The stakes are higher than ever, as we face these challenges in a landscape of declining revenue and growing demand. In one year, self-reported symptoms of depression are up 400%, anxiety is up 300% and suicidal ideation is up 200%, according to the Center for Disease Control. 58% of adults say COVID has negatively affected their mental health.

We cannot be silent about health issues that claim thousands of lives, or policies that perpetuate inequity and keep millions of Illinoisans under-represented and under-served. We must ensure stable funding for our mental health and other safety net system.

Right now, the focus is on voting for mental health on November 3rd, but we are in it for the long-haul.

We urge you to stay involved by signing up for our advocacy alerts and information, and if possible, making a tax-deductible contribution to support our education, awareness, and advocacy programs.

The New Future is in our hands. For every affiliate, member, and person with lived experience who make up NAMI in Illinois, the direction is clear. We are moving forward, into action. On behalf of the NAMI Illinois board, staff and affiliates, we’re grateful for the chance to make this journey together.

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