Episode 8: A Conversation With NAMI Maryland

Kate Farinholt, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Maryland (NAMI Maryland), talks with Quinton Askew, president & CEO of 211 Maryland to discuss mental health support.

Show Notes

1:16 About NAMI

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a grassroots mental health organization, with a Maryland chapter and local affiliates.

2:06 Personal stories of mental illness

NAMI harnesses the power of personal experiences and individuals impacted by mental illness including the personal story of Kate Farinholt and how mental illness impacts her family.

2:57 Who NAMI helps

Learn the warning signs of mental illness, which impacts one in five Americans.

5:30 Impact of traumatic events

NAMI has a number of supportive resources to help with the impact that collective racial trauma has on mental health.

11:00 Impact of COVID-19

With COVID-19, NAMI pivoted online and began offering new ways to connect and reach those who need support.

14:26 Mental health stigma and treatment barriers

Public stigma and self-stigma have gotten better, but they’re still real. There are many barriers to treatment. The average delay between diagnosis and treatment for mental illness is 11 years.

18:21 NAMI support

Hundreds of volunteers help power NAMI and its peer support programs. Learn how to connect with NAMI for help or to support its mission.


Quinton Askew (00:41)

Hello, and welcome to What’s the 211? My name is Quinton Askew, president CEO of 211 Maryland. And I am excited to have our special guest today. Kate Farinholt, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Maryland, better known as NAMI Maryland. Hello, Kate, how are you?

Kate Farinholt (00:59)

I’m fine. How are you doing?

Quinton Askew (1:00)

I’m doing great. I am definitely glad that you have joined us today, especially, you know, this being mental health month. Just really wanted to give an opportunity for the audience to really learn about you. The great work that you’re doing and actually what NAMI Maryland is.

About The National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI)

Kate Farinholt (1:16)

Well, NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. We operate on the national, state and local level, and we are the state organization. We have a number of local affiliates and lots of volunteers at the local level. And I’ve been involved with NAMI for a long time because it sucked me in and has kept me because of it. It is just so effective.

It’s effective because we believe in the power of personal experience and individuals who are affected by mental health issues, their families and others have been able to pull together and develop programs for themselves and to educate the community and using their lived experience. And it’s just an amazing organization.

Personal Stories Of Mental Illness

Quinton Askew (2:06)

How did you actually get involved in the mental health field?

Kate Farinholt (2:08)

I am not a clinician. I am not a mental health provider. I got involved because my sister developed schizophrenia when she was young. I was her older sister. The effect of mental illness on my family was extremely traumatic as well as on my sister and NAMI people helped my family find resources and I started volunteering and I’ve been involved for more than 25 years because it gives me a way to make a difference both in my sister’s life, but also to help prevent individuals and families from having to deal with the isolation and the stigma that affected my family.

Who NAMI Helps

Quinton Askew (2:57)

Definitely thank you for sharing that with us. So who does NAMI serve? What’s the population that NAMI serves across the state.

Kate Farinholt (3:04)

We consider that NAMI serves everyone. Our core stakeholders, the people we directly serve, are individuals and families directly affected by mental illness.

But the fact is that one in five individuals is going to have a mental illness in any one year, and many, many families are directly affected. And then the rest of the community is affected – employees, employers, faith communities.

So, our secondary stakeholders are basically the rest of the community who interacts with our core individuals and families. Mental illness affects everyone. Even if it’s just in terms of how it might affect your community in your neighborhood, more taxes, it affects everyone.

Quinton Askew (3:54)

Yeah. And that’s a great statistic. You know, one in five Americans, which is a powerful statistic and it’s definitely has affected, you know, friends and family of mine as well. How does someone actually know that they are actually, you know, dealing with a mental health condition or, you know, something’s wrong?

Kate Farinholt (4:14)

Well, the difference between having a mental health issue and having a mental illness, it’s a sort of a sliding scale. So people can contact us often because they are anxious, depressed, stressed and want to get information about how to deal with that. And it might be temporary, but getting a diagnosis of a mental illness is complicated and there’s no easy test to let someone know if they actually have a mental illness and where it might also be a reaction to some kind of physical disorder. Each mental illness has its own symptoms. But, the common warning signs are:

  • excessive worrying or fear
  • feeling excessively sad
  • having confused thinking or problem concentrating
  • extreme mood changes can make a difference
  • self-isolation
  • pulling away from things that used to give you joy
  • ability to carry out daily activities
  • inability to handle daily problems or stress

So we all have to think about our mental health. We need to also recognize when we need to get more help to determine if it’s a mental illness.

Impact Of Traumatic Events On Mental Health

Quinton Askew (5:30)

That’s definitely important. I know this last year has been tough for many, you know, we witnessed several traumatic events and we’ve had the death of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, you know, just really to name a few. And how does experiencing these traumatic events over and over again, and the news and, you know, continuous conversations about these events, how does these normally affect, you know, our world?

Kate Farinholt (5:54)

So again, I’m not a clinician. NAMI has certainly taught me a lot and that’s one of the things we do at NAMI is we give people education about how to define when something’s wrong, and what can cause mental health issues. Traumatic events are a huge trigger for mental health issues. That can include an accident. It can include head trauma, assault, natural disasters, and collective racial trauma. All of these can have lasting steps on someone’s personal mental health, and it can develop into a mental illness such as a post-traumatic stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder affects over 9 million people in the US. So trauma can make a huge difference. And the murder of George Floyd last year continued killing and mistreatment of black and other people of color. Other acts of violence has a huge impact on the mental health of our communities and the effect of trauma and re-traumatization are real and cannot be ignored. So it’s just a huge issue, right?

Quinton Askew (7:04)

That’s true. I’m sure, you know, there are many folks who are reaching out to NAMI and these situations definitely for support. And so what is the experience like when someone contacts NAMI, you know, when they reach out, they talk to someone. Who are the individuals that are providing the support for us?

Kate Farinholt (7:19)

Well, we are, we’re very small. We’re a small but mighty organization in terms of, we have a small staff, we have a lot of volunteers, hundreds of volunteers in the community, and also who work directly with us. For example, the main way that people meet us is usually, or the first place is through our website namimd.org. We have a huge number of resources we’ve created that are answers to common questions that we get. And we have a warm line, our staff and others answer it. And then we will help people access resources, link to local community providers, but also to our own peer support groups and education courses. So it’s mainly people come in directly through our warm line and website right now during COVID. We also do, when we’re back in the community, have a huge number of volunteers who go out to the community and let people know and are educated to help educate people.

Quinton Askew (8:26)

And now Maryland is the state entity. Are there local NAMI affiliates throughout each jurisdiction?

Kate Farinholt (8:33)

Well, we have 11 local affiliates in Maryland that cover most of the state, not all of it. Five of them are in our metropolitan areas and they have a small, but mighty staff and volunteers. And then the rest of the state, we have a number of local affiliates, which are actually programs of NAMI Maryland. So we are, we are providing the coordination for the local volunteers and we’re working on bringing more than local activities, but local affiliates to the four remaining counties that we do not cover right now.

Quinton Askew (9:14)

That’s great. I heard you mentioned earlier, you know, peer support is provided. And so does that mean that individuals who are supporting others who are calling may have some lived experience or just, you know, some understanding of other individuals who will call them to be able to provide that support for them?

Kate Farinholt (9:29)

So our warm line is predominantly an entry point. So we’ll talk to people. Yes, people answering the phone are almost entirely either individuals who have been affected by mental illness as their personal individual selves or their family member.

They then try to link people to local resources, but also if they are individuals affected by mental illness or family members they will be referred to local peer support groups. And some of our local education programs that are specifically for peers and for family members. With COVID, all of our programs went online and even after COVID, we will continue to have both in-person and online support groups and courses.

So I would also just add that what’s unusual I think about our programming is that people who contact us for help are then linked to different resources and to our peer support and education. And from those education courses in peer support groups, we then recruit people to be trained, to deliver those education courses and their support groups, and to become speakers, to go out and educate the community. So we are very much a peer-to-peer organization.

Impact Of COVID-19

Quinton Askew (11:00)

That’s definitely a great way to keep the movement going. How has COVID affected your work or has there been an increase in calls and needs since COVID? Hopefully, we’re at the end of the tunnel, but has there been, have you seen an increase?

Kate Farinholt (11:16)

There’s a huge increase in our calls to our helpline and our activity on our website. We did have to pivot, as I said, and to move our many peer programs, as well as our community education programs online. So that has been a big change with COVID, and we’ve gotten a lot of response to those. We’ve gotten an increase in calls from people who would not normally have been calling us.

We’ve been getting calls from healthcare workers and first responders and employers, not just because they want to learn about mental illness and how to interact with people with mental illness, but because they are concerned about their own mental health. So that has been a huge increase.

And we created a whole section of our website with COVID resources, and that has been just a lot of traffic. And we hope that the calls lessen and that people are able to go back into the real world after COVID. But the fact is that given the trauma and also the effect of stress and anxiety on people, as well as the heightened awareness about the importance of mental health, we expect to continue with that. A lot of calls. I just don’t think that there’ll be as many that are at the level of urgency.

Quinton Askew (12:48)

Has there been, or you’re working on any new projects since COVID has started to help support those across the state?

Kate Farinholt (12:53)

Well, as I said, we’ve created this whole section of our website and we started doing webinars that are, that were more directly related to COVID and we record those. We create infographics, we post them on our website and push them out.

But, we also have gotten involved with the state project called CovidCONNECT. And CovidCONNECT is a public website that provides free resources for Maryland residents who’ve been affected or concerned about COVID and routine. And there’s a lot of information on that. On that site, there are testimonials from other Marylanders who’ve had COVID, but we also are running and training people to run peer support groups for COVID survivors.

And we’re doing webinars for people around issues relating to behavioral health coming out of COVID. There’s a lot of things that are happening.

The other thing is that as I said, a lot of audiences that we would normally be talking to about how they should in their professional life interact with our core stakeholders, individuals and families affected by mental illness. Those groups are now coming to us to talk about the mental health of their own profession. So we’ve put, been pushing out a number of resources and webinars for frontline workers, and we’re working with national program on a program called frontline wellness. So that has been another active program. And we believe that that will continue.

Mental Health Stigmas And Treatment Barriers

Quinton Askew (14:26)

That’s good. And those can be found on the NAMI website or going directly to CovidCONNECT website Just being involved with NAMI and working with them for so long. Has there been sort of common myths around mental health of individuals sort of seeking services or just myths out there? Have there been things that sort of stood out to you?

Kate Farinholt (14:48)

Well, over the years, the stigma of mental illness, has been reduced somewhat. I would say that now it’s still there. There is so much stigma, both public stigma, but then we also observe it ourselves. So there’s self-stigma and people do not tend to want to reach out because they are afraid to be identified as perhaps having a mental health issue. So that has improved, but it’s still a huge issue.

Nobody wants to be called crazy or to think that, oh, if I have a mental illness, people are going to think that I’m going to commit a violent crime. You know, things like that, that are myths. I mean, people with mental illness, like my sister are much more likely to be the victim of a crime, a violent crime, than to commit it. But there are just a lot of myths out there. And one of the things we do is to try to change people’s understanding so that they will not only be supportive of the people around them and make it safe for people to share but also so that people will seek help when they need it. And before things become a crisis.

Quinton Askew (16:05)

Yeah. NAMI has been extremely active in advocacy around different policies to address mental health. We know, you know, one of your priorities in 2021 was access to effective services throughout all stages of life. Why was that something important to NAMI?

Kate Farinholt (16:24)

So mental illness is usually first observed in the teen years through age 25, 30 at the latest. That’s when most mental illness symptoms are observed. That does not mean that they are addressed right away, but people can be affected by mental illness at any time. Anywhere from very young to the last stages of life. And we want to make sure that anyone who is affected by mental illness, at any time, gets into effective treatment as soon as their illness strikes so that they can be on the road of recovery sooner. And the average delay between diagnosis and treatment for mental illness is 11 years. That means people who are affected are not getting the necessary supports when they need them the most. And that’s partly because of stigma and self-stigma, but it’s also because there’s a lack of in-network community behavioral health providers. There’s a routine denial of insurance coverage.

Kate Farinholt (17:36)

There are many different barriers once somebody has actually stopped treatment. So it’s hard. We want people to recognize that they have something, an issue, and then we advocate to make sure that they have access to treatment. And there are a lot of changes in policies we want to see happen with them working on them for years and Maryland is doing better, but we need to improve treatment. We need to increase access across the state. And we also need to make sure that there’s early intervention and ongoing access to an array of services that people need.

NAMI Support

Quinton Askew (18:21)

Yeah, that, that, that’s definitely a great point. And we know, you know, all the work that NAMI does in the community with the peer support groups, NAMI is a nonprofit 501(C)(3) organization. So what other partners do you work with to help support your mission?

Kate Farinholt (18:36)

We have a full-time staff of seven and we have hundreds of volunteers, but we rely on volunteers and peers who become volunteers and partnerships and organizations like 211 Maryland to expand our outreach, to ensure that our message of peer-led support and education and advocacy reaches everyone in Maryland who’s affected. And right now we are sitting on more than 70 different coalitions and committees in order to ensure the voice of our stakeholders is heard. And we have partnerships with the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, EveryMind, We Work for Health, a lot of work with the veteran organizations, the military organizations, the state, various agencies, and local providers of every sort, and many, many, many faith communities.

Quinton Askew (19:37)

And so, we know that being a nonprofit, it takes funding to help support a lot of the work that you do. And so for individuals who are interested in supporting, how can someone do that?

Kate Farinholt (19:50)

We’re always grateful for support from our community and anyone who’s interested in learning about how they can get involved should contact us at info@namimd.org. We have many ways to support our programs. Many of them are delivered by volunteers and helped be pushed out by our partners, but our funding comes from grants and a large part from individual donations. We have an annual walk in the month of May. It’s a virtual walk this year. It’s very exciting. Our average donation is about $75. And so everybody, the community is what helps us sustain ourselves.

Quinton Askew (20:38)

Great. So, I know you mentioned that the local affiliates that you have that are throughout the local jurisdiction. And so if someone is interested in, I understand that they have a local NAMI in their community, they would just really find that from their website. Can you be anonymous?

Kate Farinholt (20:54)

I mean the best way actually is probably to go onto our website again, www.namimd.org. You can look to see something about you can link to affiliates, but you can also contact us through the website and just ask because we can then connect you with whatever’s happening in your local community. So, and we’d love to do that.

Quinton Askew (21:21)

So are there any social media handles, you know, that NAMI has to find you on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all the other social media.

Kate Farinholt (21:30)

We are on TwitterFacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and I believe they all are handles that say at NAMI, Maryland spelled out, but we can give you that information also on our website, there are links to all of our social media channels.

Quinton Askew (21:51)

Where do you see, you know, the support for mental health and, you know, the need for mental health? Where do you, where do you see or hope things will go? What is your wish, your wish that you would hope?

Kate Farinholt (22:11)

Well, I know that coming out of COVID, unfortunately, we are going to have much more need for behavioral health resources than we had going in because of trauma, because of the effect of actually the virus on COVID survivors having a much higher rate of being diagnosed with a mental illness. So we’re going to be coming out of COVID with a much greater need, but I think we are also coming out of COVID with a much higher awareness and community dedication to making sure that people are taken care of. I hope that translates into us being willing to spend the money and raise our voices to make sure that the services are there.

Quinton Askew (23:07)

Yeah. And we definitely hope. And so, you know, I want to be able to, just to thank you again for, for coming on, thank you for all of the great work that NAMI is doing and continue to do, especially during the pandemic. And we definitely hope that you know, you continue to get the support that you need, and we will definitely 211 Maryland be supporting all the work that you do.

Kate Farinholt (23:25)

We really appreciate the existence of and the work of 211 Maryland and are so proud to be part of your network.

Quinton Askew (23:33)

Thank you. I appreciate it. Thanks again for coming on.

Speaker 1 (23:36)

Thank you for listening and subscribing to What’s the 211? Podcast. We are here for you 24/7/365 days a year, simply by calling 2-1-1.

Thank you to Dragon Digital Radio for producing this podcast.

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