NAMI’s new office on Research Way in Carson City doesn’t have many windows, but it’s flooded with natural light. Fixtures in the ceiling filter outdoor sunbeams directly into the building. Laura Yanez loves it because it means she can keep live, leafy green plants in every conference room. Their stems grow straight upward, reaching for the sun. Yanez is the executive director of the National Alliance On Mental Illness in Western Nevada. Back when the pandemic started, she and her colleagues put their old office space in storage and picked up remote operations. Working from home, they were busier than ever. In February 2020, NAMI fielded about 220 mental health phone calls in a month. By May, their numbers peaked at 1,400. “We had a staff of five, and now we have a staff of 18 plus three interns,” Yanez told the Appeal in an interview at NAMI’s new office. “Seventy-five to 100 new people call the warmline every month. This year, we have served 900 people since Oct. 1.” One thing to keep in mind about all those figures: NAMI’s warmline users often call more than once, and NAMI also makes outbound calls to those who need more support. The service is distinct from a hotline. Hotlines deal with crisis response calls, while NAMI’s warmline is a day-to-day service providing constant support to callers, staffed by operators who all live with their own mental health ailments. “If I’m having an anxiety attack, I can call the warmline, and I know the person on the other end more than likely has experienced an anxiety attack and can walk me through it,” Yanez said. That’s a big draw for many callers and support group participants. As Cherylyn Rahr-Wood, a NAMI board member, explained, “I would much rather talk to somebody who knows what I’ve been through.” Last year’s callers were a unique bunch, since all had one big, shared experience: the pandemic. Though those initial callers who needed to talk about COVID worries have steadily declined, NAMI is still getting a fair share of people facing stress over social isolation and fears about reengaging with their community. Yanez and Rahr-Wood both suspect that they’ll be working with callers who have some sort of pandemic-related trauma for the foreseeable future. “It’s going to be a year or two down the road before we get the full impact of being so isolated,” Yanez said. On the upside, she added, since the pandemic, more people have warmed to the idea of talking about mental health and illnesses. That tears down two big barriers to receiving care: societal- and self-stigma. Rahr-Wood herself uses the warmline and drops in on support group sessions, and she hopes that others can find comfort in speaking with people who are going through similar challenges. She shared one of her recent warmline calls with Yanez, saying, “We were laughing at the end… I hung up going, ‘God! She’s good!’” All of NAMI’s services are free to participants. To call their warmline, dial (775) 241-4212 Monday to Friday 8 a.m.-10 p.m., and weekends from 8 a.m.-9 p.m., 365 days per year. Visit them online at www.namiwesternnevada.org or connect via Facebook or Instagram: @namiwesternnevada. Their new office space is located at 3094 Research Way #61.
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