Alliance Provides Mental Health Help

by NAMI Whatcom Board Strategic Planning Committee

Founded in 1984, NAMI Whatcom is an affiliate of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), which was started in 1979 when two mothers, each with a son with schizophrenia, met over lunch to discuss the similar challenges they shared raising a child with a serious mental illness. 

NAMI programs have two components:

 They are free.

 They are led by individuals with lived experience, meaning that program participants live with a mental health condition themselves or someone they love lives with a mental health condition.

Many of our NAMI classes are evidence-based. NAMI Whatcom recognizes that there are significant barriers facing those with mental health conditions. We don’t offer a magic solution, but we can help people learn about symptoms, identify coping strategies, and navigate resources. We want people to know that they are not alone, know how to reach out if they need help, and know how to help one another.

We educate and advocate for better awareness of mental health conditions and behavioral health services. We do so by hosting events and forums so the community, elected officials, and the general public understand what it means to live with mental health conditions. We fight stigma through presentations to schools, faith groups, businesses, law enforcement, and other civic groups where individuals with lived experience can tell their stories. NAMI Whatcom offers hope and a path forward for people affected by mental health conditions.

NAMI Whatcom is a unique 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is affiliated with both the national organization, NAMI, and the state organization, NAMI Washington. We do not receive funding from these organizations. We utilize NAMI signature programs and receive training and support from NAMI Washington. Whatcom currently has 39 volunteers certified to lead.

The mission of NAMI Whatcom is to provide hope and improve the quality of life for those who are affected by mental health conditions through support, education, advocacy, and programs informed by research.

NAMI Whatcom is dedicated to:

 Strengthening our grassroots affiliate organization in order to better address our mission.

 Encouraging those living with mental health conditions, and their loved ones, to develop the understanding, skills, and strengths to cope with these challenges.

 Increasing community support for recovery and re-integration of those who have mental health conditions.

 Finding ways to bring individuals living with mental health conditions, caregivers and families, and health service providers closer together by sharing insights and techniques beneficial to individuals in these three categories.

 Full inclusivity of individuals of all races, backgrounds, cultures, and sexual orientations.

NAMI Whatcom values support, education, advocacy, and research. These are the “four pillars” of NAMI and have long been the foundation upon which we have built the NAMI movement.

 Support: Mutual emotional support is provided by people who share common experiences and can draw strength from one another across time and space in ways that only those who have “walked a mile in our shoes” can.

 Education: We offer a broad array of public education programs and focused training to improve understanding of mental health conditions and their impact on all of our lives.

 Advocacy: We work to change systems, improve public policy and bureaucratic procedures, and advance research and treatment options for all people whose lives are affected by mental health conditions.

 Research: NAMI Whatcom’s programs are based on scientific research, conducted by NAMI National.

Program Participants
NAMI Whatcom serves those experiencing mental health conditions and those who care for them, such as family members, relatives, and friends. NAMI Whatcom works towards a future where all people with mental health conditions can live productive and fulfilling lives.

Mental health conditions are disorders that affect a person’s thinking, mood, and/or behavior. They can range from mild to severe. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, nearly one-in-five adults live with a mental health condition.

A serious mental illness (SMI) is defined as one or more diagnoses of mental disorders combined with significant impairment in functioning. Schizophrenia, bipolar illness, and major depressive disorder are the diagnoses most associated with SMI, but people with one or more other disorders may also fit the definition of SMI if those disorders cause serious functional impairment that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.

NAMI Whatcom is active at the local and state level in advocating for better mental and behavioral health public policies. We participate annually in NAMI Washington’s lobbyday/week held in February, which involves meeting in-person or virtually with state representatives and state senators in the 40th and 42nd Legislative Districts. We have also provided public comment on Bellingham and Whatcom County law enforcement budgets related to behavioral health staffing, and we monitor the activities of the Whatcom County Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force’s Behavioral Health Subcommittee, among other local activities.

NAMI volunteers and the staff also participate in monthly meetings involving individuals and organizations engaged in behavioral health crisis response and supportive agencies in Whatcom County. These monthly meetings are facilitated by individuals who are also NAMI volunteers and representatives from other agencies, although these are not official NAMI Whatcom events. Representatives from the Bellingham Police Department, Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) and Ground-Level Response and Coordinated Engagement (GRACE) programs, treatment providers, and others participate in these monthly sessions.

 We provide resources and information to enhance the quality of life of those affected by mental illness.

 Peers who are 18 years and older serve as leaders; therapists do not lead our programs.

 We strive to maintain a positive and respectful environment even when there is contention.

Value: What unique value do we provide?

 Our classes and other programs are evidence-based.

 Our services and resources are free.

 We provide a resource line and a directory of current mental health providers in our area.

 We provide a safe haven to explore feelings and experiences and to honestly and openly confront things head on.

Scope: How do we deliver programs and activities?

 Although we provide presentations to middle and high school groups, in general our programs are for people who are 18 or older.

 We do not provide psychotherapy or other clinical treatments.

 We mainly serve residents of Whatcom County.

 We represent the issues of people affected by mental illness to relevant governmental agencies, such as police, and to community groups, such as churches and schools.

 Curricula for our classes and the training of volunteer leaders and facilitators is provided by National and Washington state NAMIs.

NAMI Whatcom can be contacted by phone at (360) 671-4950 and by email at  

All calls will be returned as soon as possible, usually the same or next business day.

The resources provided through NAMI Whatcom and are not a substitute for the knowledge, skill, and judgment of qualified professionals. Should you have any health, medical or disability questions or concerns, please consult a physician or other health care professional. To find a professional, you may use our provider directory, 

NAMI Whatcom is fully inclusive of individuals and families of all backgrounds and cultures. Our affiliate collaborates with others to advocate for system change and public policies that best support recovery and resiliency for those living with mental illness.

We can all help prevent suicide. The National Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones at 1-800-273-8255. Also, in Whatcom County, call the VOA Crisis Line 24/7:1-800-584-3578. 

NAMI Whatcom Programs

NAMI Family 

Support Group

Peer-led support group for family members, significant others, and friends of people with mental health conditions. Twice Weekly

Support Group

Peer-led support group for people with mental health conditions. Weekly
NAMI Family to Family Class Class for families, significant others, and friends. This class facilitates a better understanding of mental health conditions, increases coping skills, and empowers participants to become advocates for their family members of people with mental health conditions. Several times


NAMI Peer to Peer Class Class for adults with mental health conditions. The course is designed to encourage growth, healing, and recovery among participants. Several times


NAMI Basics Class for parents, guardians. and other family caregivers who provide care for youth (ages 22 or younger) who are experiencing mental health symptoms.
NAMI Family & Friends Two- or four-hour seminar that informs and supports people who have loved ones with a mental health condition. Participants learn about diagnoses, treatment, recovery, communication strategies, crisis preparation, and NAMI resources.


Class for families, caregivers, and friends of military service members and veterans with mental health conditions. The course is designed specifically to help these families understand those challenges and improve their ability to support their service member or veteran.
NAMI Smarts Hands-on advocacy training program that helps people living with mental illness, friends, and family transform their passion and lived experience into skillful grassroots advocacy.
NAMI Ending the Silence Presentation designed for middle and high school students, school staff, and parents or guardians of middle- or high-school-aged youth. Audiences learn about the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, how to recognize the early warning signs, and the importance of acknowledging those warning signs.
NAMI in Your Own Voice Presentation for the general public to promote awareness of mental health conditions and recovery.
NAMI Sharing Your Story with Law Enforcement Presentation program that trains peers and families to share their stories during law enforcement trainings, such as Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training.
Survivors of Suicide Loss Presentation for clergy and congregations of all faith traditions who wish to create a welcoming and supportive environment for individuals and families living with mental illness. Twice monthly
Bridges of Hope Presentation for clergy and congregations of all faith traditions who wish to create a welcoming and supportive environment for individuals and families living with mental illness.
Compartiendo Esperanza Bilingual presentation for Latinx communities designed to promote mental health awareness, explore signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, and highlight how and where to find help.


Members of the Strategic Planning Committee include Brian Estes, Chris Ohana, Mieka Rhoades, Kim Sauter and Rosemary Webb. Except for Kim Sauter, they are all volunteers who devote much time supporting the mission of NAMI Whatcom.

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