Gov. Steve Sisolak, center, speaks with National Alliance of Mental Illness of Western Nevada Executive Director Laura Yanez, left, and NAMI’s Nevada Caring Contacts coordinator and artist Michelle Sscot, right, about her mental health struggles. Sscot’s glasswork hangs on the walls behind Sisolak.
Photo by Jessica Garcia.
Gov. Steve Sisolak toured the National Alliance of Mental Illness of Western Nevada’s facility Wednesday to view artwork the organization debuted on Tuesday and to emphasize the importance of providing mental health resources to local communities.
He had a chance to meet with Carissa Parsons of Fallon and view her photos lining NAMI’s walls. Parsons’ artwork represents the Great Reno Balloon Race and her grandparents’ home in Zephyr Cove and demonstrates her resilience after her mental health struggle in recent years.
“It’s important to give back,” she said. “I was only working 10 hours a week. That’s all I could do. Now I’m working full-time and I’m in graduate school. … I would tell (others) they can reach out, that they don’t have to keep it to themselves. Reaching out is not weak.”
Sisolak celebrated the successes NAMI has had making outreach to those who are experiencing mental health struggles and spent a few minutes speaking with two artists who created the artwork that now shows on NAMI’s office walls, including staff member Michelle Sscot.
It was a chance for Executive Director Laura Yanez also to share progress made through NAMI’s new Teen Text Line for youth ages 14 to 24. The service launched in May receives about 50 youth a month on its lines. The organization has gone from answering 3,000 to 6,000 texts per month, and that number is expected to increase now that school starts up this month, Yanez said.
The line provides youth seeking mental health services peer support from young adults 18 to 26 years of age for more personal connection.
“It’s for teens in Nevada throughout the state that are experiencing mental illness or life stressors because we know a lot of people don’t consider it a mental illness but they really need the support,” she said. “Things like bullying or family relations are two of the top ones we see. It really is unique in that aspect. It’s only the second one in the nation.”
Yanez said Nevada’s resource is unique in that it takes referrals from the community, so parents can contact the NAMI office directly and express concerns about their child or teen and ask for a representative to reach out and ask how their son or daughter is doing to build support.
As a youth submits a text asking for help or seeking support, Yanez said they receive a text back letting them know about the Warmline hours and acknowledging that the line is not a crisis line.
“Then, they speak to an operator about what’s going on with them,” she said. “There’s obviously an encouragement or an engagement. We’re always leaving the door open. Those conversations could be an hour to five hours just because of how teens text. It’s really person-centered, which we know is best practices for peer support and it’s leading to where that person (the youth) wants to go.”
NAMI’s Nevada Warmline, the adult version of its phone service, is reaching out to about 40% of state residents, according to Yanez. She said it’s unclear how many in the state the teen line is reaching, but its staff works with mobile crisis response teams to make sure youth are referred in upon initial contact. While the program is dedicated to 14- to 24-year-olds, Yanez said the team has taken calls from children as young as 11 in need of support or diversion away from hospitalization, which is a 60- to 90-day program.
NAMI’s peer-led support program has been submitted to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national Recovery Innovation Challenge and was selected as one of 20 finalists out of 360 applicants in the nation. The challenge identifies innovative practices in behavioral health that advance recovery in local communities. On Sept. 12, the organization’s program advances to the final round of judging.
Sisolak said NAMI’s work overall provides an easier avenue for adults and young people to connect with others when they’re dealing with stressful issues. The governor said he will propose to the Nevada Legislature investing $50 million for mental health services for youth.
“I think it’s making it easier, and it’s OK to feel not OK,” he said. “And our kids need to know that it’s OK to not have a great day. When you need help, you need help now.”
Sisolak said reaching students at the urban or rural levels using any tool is critical, and it’s also important that the funding is used to recruit social workers, educators and counselors with the resources to expand availability to build on success stories.
“These teens have come to know this Internet and social media more than I’ll ever know,” he said. “Whoever thought they’d be texting in, but whether it’s texting or TikTok, whatever they can do, we need to do what we can.”
For information about NAMI Western Nevada, visit namiwesternnevada.org. To call the Nevada Warmline, call 775-241-4212 between 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. To use the Nevada Teen Peer Support Text Line, youth can text in at 775-296-8336 between noon to 10 p.m. seven days a week.