NAMI Ohio, “the state’s voice on mental illness” is governed by a 28-member board of directors. There are six members from four different regions of the state; three At-Large members and a Consumer Council representative. This is a very diverse group of members consisting of various genders, race, social-economic backgrounds, people living with mental illness and family members.
In May 2020, NAMI Ohio recognized that there is disparity in healthcare, especially mental health care. There is a giant gap in care as it relates to African Americans.
Over the past two and a half months, a number of meetings have been held and quite frankly, some of those meetings were uncomfortable. The board members discussed issues and how each of our lives are so different. NAMI Ohio is proud to present our Social Justice Statement that not only identifies our position but, more importantly, will guide our commitment to enhance our advocacy, education, and support in these under-served communities.
As you will see in this statement, we are asking all Ohioans to join us to eliminate public policy and societal practices which perpetuate prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination resulting in inequities and mental health disparities.
This statement was approved at the NAMI Ohio board meeting held Saturday, August 22nd. Today, we start our journey on this extremely important issue. We are excited that we have an opportunity to make change.
NAMI Ohio Social Justice Statement
NAMI Ohio is the voice for all Ohioans with mental illness regardless of age, gender, race or ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, language, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The impacts of structural and systemic racism on the mental health needs of Ohioans who are Black, indigenous, and people of color are real and devastating. The emotional, psychological, and physical manifestation of trauma negatively impact mental health and lead to mental health disparities. We believe that all individuals including communities of color and people with mental illness must be treated with respect and dignity and receive equitable health outcomes and full inclusion. NAMI Ohio denounces racism and racial discrimination in all its forms. As Ohio’s voice for mental illness, we will take action to make change through word and deed. We ask all Ohioans to join us to eliminate public policy and societal practices which perpetuate prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination resulting in inequities and mental health disparities.
Mental illness and racism have been unwelcome visitors to Etta M. Almon’s 80 years of life. Hard times may have bent Etta but they have not broken her. She is a retired nurse, parent, boxer, and a dedicated board member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio (NAMI Ohio).
As with many members of the NAMI family, Almon’s connection to NAMI, the nation’s largest volunteer mental health advocacy organization, is personal. Her son, brother, sister, and uncle have struggled with mental illness over the years.
As an African American, Etta said she realizes there is a “lack of trust and not enough people to provide mental health care in the African American community. We need more education on both sides.” Etta is working to involve minority churches, African American sororities, and medical organizations to improve mental health care in the community.
Etta now lives in Columbus but was born in Georgia where racial inequality was an everyday fact of life. When she was seven years old, she had the terrifying experience of seeing a cross burned in her neighbor’s yard just across the street from her own home. Additionally, stories circulated of black people being lynched, she said. Compounding her fear, Etta’s father was away at the time in Cincinnati where he had gone to find work in a factory.
“We eventually moved to Cincinnati because we were afraid. They said, ‘The next time we’ll kill you.’ The family made the move to Ohio in 1947. Etta still remembers her uncle taking the family to the train station in a horse-drawn wagon.
While things were better in Cincinnati, Etta was unable to escape racism entirely. “There were certain areas in Cincinnati where we weren’t allowed to go unless you worked there. I remember they took us to a park when I was in junior high school and some people started shooting at us.”
While battling racism and inequality, a new battle began. Mental illness began rearing its head in Etta’s family. Her son, Leroy, began showing symptoms when he was in his late 20’s, she said. While he was living in Dayton, her son traveled to Columbus where he was involved in an automobile accident that was seemingly his fault. He arrested because of a conflict with the police, likely due to his mental illness, Etta said. “They beat him severely. He had never been arrested before, didn’t have a record, and had never got in trouble. It was very traumatic for him and for me.”
The trauma of the arrest affected Leroy so severely that he began speaking less and less, and eventually stopped talking altogether. He now lives with her, and only communicates by writing.
Etta also lost her uncle, Ivory Wansley, as a result of untreated mental illness in his 40’s. She said her uncle was taken to jail after having a mental breakdown – and never returned home. He died in jail, apparently as a result of being beaten, she said.
Etta worked 15 years as a nurse in the traumatic head injury department at Ohio State University hospitals. Retired now, she remains active by playing tennis, weightlifting and boxing, an unusual form of exercise she took up at the recommendation of her neurologist. “It helps your balance and helps your mind by how they tell you to follow along.” She is the only woman boxer at TITLE Box Club in Grandview.
Etta said minorities have made strides in civil rights and mental health awareness. “We’ve made some progress, but we’ve got a long way to go.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, but now at least we’re having a discussion about it which is a good thing.”
Etta continues her fight against stigma and inequality in her capacity as a board member of NAMI Ohio. NAMI Ohio is blessed to have Etta help us create change that is so desperately needed. Thank you, Etta!
As a child, Hope Haney loved watching The Lone Ranger show on television. Later, she became a fan of the Green Hornet and Batman. Haney eventually realized her TV heroes had one thing in common: they all fought for justice.
Haney’s three-decades of being a champion for justice of people with severe mental illness will be recognized Sept. 25 when she receives the Eagle Award from the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board. The award goes to someone who has “soared above” the average in giving a voice to the voiceless in the community, according to Duane Piccirilli, director of the agency. The virtual award ceremony will be streamed on Facebook Live. (https://www.facebook.com/Mahoning-County-Mental-Health-Recovery-Board-479156725598298/)
Haney, 61, has been executive director of the NAMI Mahoning Valley since 2015, but she has been an advocate for people with severe and persistent mental illness for 33 years. She earned a master’s degree in community counseling in 1987.
This has been a particularly difficult year for Haney since she lost her significant other to COVID-19 on March 25. She worked out her grief by helping deliver food, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to Mahoning Valley adult care residential housing facilities for people with mental illness.
Haney has always been a champion for people with severe mental illness, including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Part of her focus came from the 1995 closing of the Woodside Receiving Hospital, an 800-bed state psychiatric hospital in Youngstown. The closing, part of a national deinstitutionalization movement, resulted in many former hospital patients moving to group homes in the area. Some never found places to live and became homeless.
“A lot of people purchased large old mansions and started group homes,” Haney said. “Every NAMI affiliate takes on the personality of its community. This is ours. We speak for the people who have no voice.”
It’s been many years since the days when Haney watched The Lone Ranger, the western drama on TV from 1949 to 1957. But she hasn’t forgotten him or his fight for justice. In her kitchen, Haney has an old tin sign that once advertised bread. The hero on the sign is the Lone Ranger.