Executive Director Tina Kinney describes how her chapter quickly pivoted to a new way of doing business in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Social distancing, isolation, quarantine – all these words flooded our minds as news and social media began reporting on the COVID-19 epidemic. Unemployment, homeschooling children, fear of contracting the virus and the newfound chaos wreaking havoc on our lives created the perfect storm for an imminent mental health crisis,” Kinney explains. Therefore, staff and volunteers at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Hernando, Florida knew that when their doors closed on March 16th due to physical distancing protocols, they had to act fast to get ahead of the impending uncertainty.
“We must be the one unwavering constant in our peers’ lives…[therefore]…we immediately came together to find a platform to offer our support groups virtually. Once a platform had been selected, we moved to format a PowerPoint presentation to mirror the NAMI Connections Recovery Support Group model,” says Kinney. Peers received a crash course in facilitating an online support group and designing a flyer to share meeting information. “The best way to describe the process is that we were flying the plane as we were building it. Everything happened so fast that we didn’t even know what we created. Our first group came together just four days after the Beautiful Mind (Drop-In) Center in Spring Hill closed – it was a huge success,” adds Kinney.
In fact, it was so well implemented that NAMI Hernando began training other Florida affiliates on how to expand the program statewide. They shared their PowerPoint designs, offered Zoom trainings virtually and hosted mock groups so others could see how the model was facilitated in a virtual setting. They also added their Family Support Group, LGBTQ+ Support Group, Book Club, Yoga and Saturday Night Social to the “virtual” calendar.
They supplemented their CARE Line with a Google Voice line to increase the hours and availability of assistance and began offering ‘Care Calls’ to check in daily with peers. They designed questions during those calls that would engage conversation while offering peers a tool ensuring the mental and physical needs of participants were being met. One example: “Have you tried a new recipe this week?” would not only be a conversation starter but may uncover if the peer was experiencing any food insecurities.
NAMI Hernando’s mission is to provide mental wellness in the community through education, support, advocacy, empowerment and outreach. While COVID-19 may have placed obstacles in the way, through resiliency they have found a way to turn adversity into an opportunity to expand and enhance programs. Kinney says, “Through this endeavor we have overcome both transportation issues in our rural community as well as stigma and plan to continue to offer the virtual platform even after we return to in-person meetings.”