Mary’s sister had been in a Columbus psychiatric hospital for two weeks this past summer, and despite daily calls to the hospital, Mary had been unable to reach the hospital treatment staff.
Not once. In two weeks.
As days passed, Mary, who lives in Marietta, Ohio, 125 miles from Columbus, grew increasingly worried about her sister who had been hospitalized several times in the past to treat her bi-polar disorder.
This time was different, however. Mary’s sister had never suggested suicide before, saying she was “too chicken” to take her own life.
“I’m not chicken anymore,” she told Mary in a phone call from the hospital. She did not feel like she was ready to go home, but the hospital staff planned to release her the next day.
Now fearful, Mary called the Washington County Behavioral Health Board in Marietta where she was referred to the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio Helpline (800 686-2646 or Text NAMI to 741741).
A short time later, Mary talked by phone to Danielle Smart, NAMI Ohio Client Navigator, who handles the majority of helpline calls.
“Danielle helped so much,” Mary said. “She called the hospital and they returned her call right away. The hospital director of treatment called me the next morning.”
As a result of NAMI’s help, Mary’s sister was transferred to a different hospital wing with more intensive counseling where she remained for another 10 days before being released to safely return home.
“I feel so grateful I made that call and that Danielle listened to me actively,” Mary said. “Everything went to plan about what she said after that.”
Call NAMI. They’ll be able to help.
Mary’s call was one of more than 2,500 contacts to the NAMI Ohio Helpline since March of 2022 when the Client Navigator role was created.
NAMI Ohio Executive Director Luke Russell said the organization “has operated a Help/Referral line for years. We have always wanted people calling to have a real person they could talk with and guide them to the best resource.”
Helpline calls were answered by NAMI’s trained staff, but the duty rotated, with many calls being handled personally by the executive director.
This year, Luke continued, “the need arose for someone with social work and clinical skills to be added to handle the increase in tough calls from individuals and families in serious need of mental health services and supports.”
That resulted in the hiring of Danielle Smart as NAMI Client Navigator and, with it, the formalized, private tracking of calls detailing the problem, actions and results.
“The opportunity to have someone answer and follow up on calls came about with some extra funding from the COVID19 dollars and the NAMI Ohio Board prioritizing this role as we advocate for an increase in care management and coordination for those most in need,” Luke said. “The mission at NAMI Ohio is to educate, advocate and support individuals with mental illness and their families, and the role of the Client Navigator directly supports those we are here to represent.”
Danielle is the main point of contact for those contacting NAMI Ohio seeking services, support, education, housing, and crisis intervention services. Her job includes building strong relationships with NAMI staff and the statewide network of affiliates, 2committing to removing barriers to care by identifying critical resources for individuals and families, assessing needs of callers to NAMI Ohio’s crisis line, and doing follow-ups to see that needed help is being received from local providers and support services.
Danielle was a NAMI Ohio intern from June 2020 to April 2021, and has a decade of experience as a social worker after graduating from Ohio State University with Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees. She is a licensed social worker and a native of Bellefontaine in Logan County, Ohio.
Handling the Helpline
She manages the NAMI Ohio Helpline from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays; calls are answered remotely after hours. She also responds to email messages and in-person contacts at events.
Helpline callers can provide as much or as little information as they feel comfortable giving, Danielle said. “My focus is for people to get connected to the resources they need.”
The length of the call depends on the needs of the caller.
“Sometimes they just need to talk,” Danielle said. “Some of the toughest calls are talking to a parent whose child is going through a mental health crisis. I spend as much time as I need to.”
One person called with concerns about an aging parent. “They love this person so much and they don’t know what to do. The hopelessness and pain can make people feel completely lost.”
Danielle said direct services were the subject of the majority of calls, followed by support assistance, business-related, multiple needs, housing, and crisis calls.
“Being a social worker is a privilege,” Danielle said. “I truly enjoy talking to people…. The best parts are when you’re able to help someone. That’s such a great feeling, like a warm hug. I love when I’m able to solve something for someone that they didn’t know how to do.”
“I like talking to people who are disenfranchised to help them advocate for themselves. Things get better with a quality of care.”
And sometimes, the one who helps others so much needs a helper, too. Danielle said she depends on a personal therapist, family and friends to help keep her balanced as she takes on the burdens of so many others.