Health Check: RI mental health program inspires

National Alliance on Mental Illness in Rhode Island

Jeremiah Rainville has been living with mental illness most of his life. He was diagnosed when he was 11 while in DCYF care.

"The first diagnosis was major depression with severe psychosis and (post-traumatic stress disorder)," the 29-year-old said. "I dealt with really dark depression."

He was hospitalized more than once and lived in a group home for a while. But it was the help and services he received that have led him to a life he is now proud of.

"I am here to promote that recovery is probable and you don't have to live in darkness, you don't have to live in fear," Rainville said.

He credits, in part, the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Rhode Island for making a difference. He first started working there as an administrative assistant. Now he's a peer counselor.

Penny Ferrara was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 23.

"I was diagnosed a few years earlier with major depression. The biggest thing for someone with a mental illness is to get involved. The biggest thing is to work, you know, to have a place to go where you feel like you matter," she said.

Ferrara is NAMI's education coordinator for high schools. She and others tell their personal stories.

"That's really a big hit. Because we have so many kids that come up to us after, so frightened to tell anyone what they've been going through or their parents, or whatever, so we kind of bring it out," she said. "I've had teachers say, 'Please, you need to come back every year.'"

That's what NAMI is hoping to do despite its dwindling funding.

It doesn't charge for any services and the group wants to keep it that way.

"Because the heart of our mission is more important which is to promote recovery, keep people with the right services, which are becoming increasingly difficult," said Chaz Gross, executive director of NAMI.

NAMI is holding its largest fundraiser, a walk, on Sept. 27.

"We need sponsorships for that," Gross said.

NAMI's goal is to raise $65,000 to help ensure it keeps hope alive for the many thousands in the area struggling with a mental illness.