by Karen Ranus, Executive Director, NAMI Central Texas
While we realize the dreams of women pioneers daily, we pay special attention to the struggles, victories and legacies of the women who have come before us during Women’s History Month in March.
NAMI’s history cannot be told without acknowledging the courage and perseverance of a core group of women who worked together to coax understanding and change from the beleaguered and unjust mental health system. The deinstitutionalization of mental health care in the 1970s created stressful and frustrating conditions for families and individuals, leaving them without the services and support they needed to reach recovery or maintain long-term health and wellbeing. Around the country, informal groups began meeting to focus on mental health education and advocacy for their young adult children who were lost in the fractured system. NAMI was born from these grassroots efforts.
I got to meet one of these “NAMI Mommies” at NAMI’s 2019 National Convention in Seattle. At 98-years-old, Eleanor Owen still showed the same courage and conviction that led her and the other founders to seek a better future for people living with a mental health challenge.
Their work inspired even more people around the country, and in 1984 Genevieve Hearon, Jeanette Brown, Kathy Strauss, Linda Sarles, Louise Jensen, and Silva Wildi founded the Austin affiliate. Countless others were instrumental to the launch and early success of this affiliate. They passed the torch to subsequent generations of mental health advocates and, with the same courage and hope, they greeted me when I found NAMI after nearly losing my 18-year-old daughter to suicide.
Throughout my time as a class participant, volunteer, and executive director, I’ve been inspired repeatedly by the men and women who give countless hours to create better support and care for people in a mental health crisis. I especially admire these founders who took on this work when mental health was even more stigmatized than today. With them in mind, and with generous support from Impact Austin, NAMI Central Texas launched Lighthouse. The program idea is simple—ensure no parent faces the mental health challenges of their child or teen without someone to help them navigate on the path to health and wellness.
As we continue NAMI’s work during one of the most significant health and mental health crises our country has ever experienced, I hope you are equally inspired by the courageous women who helped begin this movement.
Karen and Eleanor Owen at NAMICon in 2018