In the early 1970s, small groups of family members, nationwide, began to gather around kitchen tables searching for support and understanding of their mentally ill family member, more often than not, a son. The majority of those meeting together were moms blamed by the medical profession that their parenting skills caused their child’s schizophrenia or other mental health disorder. Groups began in Clark County in 1977 and in Cowlitz County in 1978. Our SW WA founders include Jean Lough and Virginia Cox from Clark County, and Bernie and Marcia Altman from Cowlitz County, among others. NAMI was in the beginning and continues to be a volunteer driven organization.
In the late 1970s, some of these families gathered together in Madison, WI and decided to form state associations. In Washington, our founding families formed Washington Alliance on Mental Illness or WAMI. Within the next few years, the state organizations decided to form a national organization named the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI.org has become the nation’s largest grassroots organization and leading voice on mental health issues. Today, we are an association of hundreds of local affiliates, state organizations, and volunteers. We work in our communities to raise awareness and provide support and education that was not previously available to those in need.
In Fall 2013, NAMI Cowlitz and NAMI Clark merged and invited Skamania County into one region so that NAMI services could be offered to a larger regional audience. Southwest Washington Behavioral Health Regional Support Network (SWBH RSN) was one of the few RSNs in the state that recognized the importance of NAMI programs and was funding them in Clark County. After the merger, SWBH RSN began funding programs for all three counties and NAMI SW WA was born.
NAMI relies on financial gifts; the time and talents of many volunteers; and in-kind contributions to support our important work.