Get to Know Samantha Herrell

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.