National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, has a reputation for being one of the best sources for supporting and educating the public on mental illness. This nonprofit offers a wide array of careers, internships and volunteer opportunities for students of every major. 1 in 5 college students experience some form of mental illness, and nearly 75% of mental health conditions are diagnosed by the age of 24. Given these statistics, NAMI may be one of the most rewarding nonprofits you could choose to work for. For most intern and volunteer roles, you might not even need to leave campus.
Read on to find out more about all you can offer NAMI and NAMI can offer to you.
What We Do
NAMI started as families at their kitchen tables in 1979. These families, scattered all over the nation, were looking to help their loved ones affected by mental illness. Originally called “Parents of Adult Schizophrenics,” the movement grew and eventually created what we know today as NAMI. NAMI developed into the largest grassroots mental health organization with over 600 affiliates nationwide. Their mission is to provide “advocacy, education, support and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives.” They do this through various programs you can check out at their website. Once you learn about what they do, you will find it easy to follow through with support, advocacy, listening and leading.
Who We Help
NAMI offers education classes and support groups for individuals with mental health conditions and their loved ones. NAMI also educates the public on the warning signs and symptoms of mental health conditions in an effort for more people to get the help they might need. They aim to provide support to everyone, from children and parents to those who may be struggling themselves or anyone who wants to get involved. NAMI’s belief in diversity, equity and inclusion ensures that no single person who wishes to be educated or supported feels left out.
What It’s Really Like
Every role in NAMI, whether you are an employee, intern or volunteer, has its benefits and challenges. Many volunteer programs require people who experience mental illness or know a loved one that has. This can be challenging because it requires them to discuss their real-life experiences living with these situations. However, the reward is often far greater. They are often thanked for the impact they make in people’s lives simply by sharing their story for the purpose of education.
“Being an intern. It’s one of the best things that has happened to me. It started small at first. I would handle maybe one or two support groups to start. When I became more comfortable, I was able to take on more tasks and more work. Fast forward and I am now handling anywhere between two to four groups with little to no supervision. I enjoy my work as an intern, and I feel that as time passes, I will have accomplished more than I could have ever dreamt,” NAMI Florida Intern and Kent State University senior Christopher Williamson said.
Working for a nonprofit has its challenges because of budget concerns and a smaller staff. However, the rewards far outweigh these challenges. A benefit of working for a nonprofit is the passion that every employee brings to the table because they truly care. There is a lot more that can be accomplished from a place of compassion as opposed to selfish gain. It is very rewarding to know you are supporting an effort that truly makes a difference in people’s lives.
What You’ll Learn
Every role at NAMI, whether an employee, an intern or a volunteer, is an ongoing learning experience. The three most common employee roles at the state level are the Program Manager, Director of Outreach and Events and Communication Coordinator. The Program Manager deals primarily with training volunteers. The NAMI Indianapolis Director of Outreach and Events essentially takes on the PR role and oversees all internships.
“The job includes marketing our programs and events, as well as sustaining public relations efforts to spread awareness and educate the public,” NAMI Indiana Communications Coordinator Caroline Chastain said.
At the intern level, you will learn what it is like to do these in-office jobs and many other opportunities that might fit your qualifications and interest. An internship with NAMI offers the chance to learn skills valuable to future professions. They offer hands-on experience helping with projects in the office. For example, a recent intern helped establish one of their newest program efforts, NAMI in the Lobby, which sends NAMI volunteers to the waiting rooms of pediatric emergency hospitals to support families experiencing a mental health crisis. When it comes to interning, there is no limit to what you can learn. You can help educate, offer to set up events and help out in the office a few days a week.
How to Get Involved
NAMI has an array of internship opportunities and is willing to work with students to offer an experience that best suits their interests. They also train volunteers to work on their Helpline. Those who work on the Helpline are trained to listen and offer assistance to anyone who calls and needs help or someone to talk with Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST. They are also available by chat, text, and email. For more information about volunteering or reaching the helpline, click here.
“Someone interning with the helpline will learn about the abundance of resources in the state, while someone interning in events will learn about all the free signature programs NAMI provides for people living with a mental health condition and their loved ones. I think the biggest thing anyone that has ever interned with NAMI Indiana learned is the power of stories. Our story is powerful and brings us all together. With those stories, it allows us to end the stigma surrounding mental health,” NAMI Indiana’s Director of Outreach and Events, Richard Dixon said.
There are many opportunities to volunteer outside of employment and internship opportunities as well. NAMI also offers “NAMI on Campus,” which many students find beneficial. These are student-led, student-run mental health organizations on college campuses. The volunteers are in charge of holding support groups, candlelight vigils, finding guest speakers and spreading awareness. To find or start a “NAMI on Campus” club at your university, click here.
Skills that impress them
NAMI looks for individuals with lived experience. This usually includes those who know what it is like to have a mental illness or a loved one with a mental illness. As a nonprofit, they know the most valuable employees come equipped with passion. For communication positions such as Chastain’s, they look for people with experience in the field and a bachelor’s degree or some equivalent.
“To work a position like mine, you need to understand basic editing programs like Microsoft, have a knack for design software to create graphics, understand email and social media marketing, and the ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously with limited oversight,” Chastain said.
Of course, if you plan to get hired for a specific job, you will need the required education, skills and experience. However, when it comes to interns, it is beneficial to major in something similar to what you are choosing to intern for. There are endless volunteer opportunities. One thing that is not necessarily skill but highly encouraged by everyone who works, interns or volunteers for NAMI is lived experience. To get involved, visit https://nami.applicantpro.com/jobs/
To conclude, NAMI offers employment, internships and volunteer opportunities for any area of interest. Their mission is to support, advocate and educate the public on mental illness. With college being such a stressful time for many of us, students can’t forget to take care of their mental health. NAMI needs us to help them accomplish their mission. If you want to gain some great experience and help a lot of people at the same time, think about choosing NAMI for your future.