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Online NAMI support groups planned, more mental health help available during pandemic

The Journal Times - 4/7/2020

Apr. 7--Almost two weeks into Wisconsin's "Safer at Home" order, many Wisconsinites are starting to feel stir crazy as cabin fever sets in for some homebound folks.

To fight against feelings of isolation, state health leaders and local mental health advocates are offering programs, services and strategies to help people look out for themselves.

"Becoming isolated, especially if you have mental health issues already, can be unhealthy for the simple fact that you're isolated yourself and focus on your own thoughts," said Nicole Smart, program director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness Racine County. "You tend to focus on the negative side of things ... because you don't have that connection with people that can be so uplifting."

During a County Board meeting last week, hosted via conference call, Human Services Director Hope Otto noted that feelings of depression and anxiety are "kind of the norm right now" for a lot of people. Otto advised listeners to be "an advocate for your own needs," whether that means making sure to get unemployment benefits for those who have been laid off, or reaching out for professional help by dialing 2-1-1.

Without friends to "be there for us when you have bad days," connecting with others while physically isolated becomes more important, according to Smart.

To help fight back against despair and loneliness, NAMI Racine County announced that it will soon start hosting virtual support groups via the video conferencing service Zoom, since traditional meetings and groups had to be canceled due to COVID-19. Details will be announced on Facebook at For more information, reach out to Smart directly at

"This is tough. We're having to see each other online, rather than having a potluck with friends," Gov. Tony Evers said last week. "This kind of distancing is difficult. We know it's draining mentally and emotionally."

In a commentary published by USA Today on March 29, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., shared his fears that the longer shutdowns last, the more it could lead to more people committing suicide because of lost jobs and "individual despair" resulting from isolation.

But Andrea Palm, the secretary-designee for the Department of Health Services, said that social distancing "does not have to equate to social dislocation, disconnection or isolation."

On Friday, Evers announced the launch of Resilient Wisconsin, a webpage with resources aimed "to connect and build resiliency for Wisconsinites affected by trauma, toxic stress, and also mental and behavioral challenges." That resource center can be found at, and it is expected to remain active even after the coronavirus crisis passes.

"Being resilient doesn't mean being alone," Evers said.

For a more informal option than NAMI's online support groups, Smart and Department of Health Secretary-designee Andrea Palm have repeated the same advice: stay in touch with loved ones via phone calls, social media and video chatting.

"You can call and check in on people, see how they're coping: FaceTime with Grandma, Skype with your neighbor, Google Hangout with your friends. Stay connected to your support system," Palm said two weeks ago, "because we are going to need each other to get through this. But we can do it together."


Here are some ways to reach out to trained mental health professionals in case you or a loved one needs help:

Racine Crisis Services: 262-638-6741

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

NAMI HelpLine: 800-950-6264

Disaster Distress Helpline: 800-985-5990

Text "Talk with us" to 66747

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