Taking a Moment to Honor Those Serving People with Mental Illnesses

Mike Rynas with award It was an evening to recognize shared challenges and the progress made in community attitudes to mental illness.   I had the pleasure of joining the National Alliance on Mental Illness (better known as NAMI) Eastside as it hosted an awards event in our Rainier Room last week.

This wasn’t just any professional gathering, however.  Yes, there were community leaders, such as Shoreline’s Mayor Keith McGlashan and Redmond City Council Member (and Together Center Chair) Hank Myers.  But a round-robin of introductions showed how significant and personal the event was for most.

Parents of young adults told the story of how their children were doing right now. Whether thriving or currently off their medications and homeless, each parent shared how critical it was to have discovered NAMI and talked to Executive Director Barb Thompson.  Before, they had felt alone and hopeless.  Filled with new information and supports, they were better able to help their son or daughter and themselves.   Most importantly, they weren’t alone. Couples who had walked this path looked at each other knowingly.

Mike (pictured) and Susan Rynas received a lifetime achievement award from Washington State NAMI for their work in launching NAMI Eastside.  They brought the young program to Together Center a decade or so.  Since then, NAMI has moved into larger digs on campus two times as they have grown their programs, trainings, and support groups.

Also receiving an award was the Shoreline Police (operated by the King County Sheriff’s Office) for the new RADAR program, which enables police to build relationships with individuals who have mental illnesses which may bring them into conflicts in the future. This voluntary pilot program allows those affected by illnesses to get to know police, and for police to better understand who has special needs.

It is not obvious who has a mental illness, of course, or who has some connection. One of those getting a laugh was Mayor McGlashan.  Due his mother’s job, he “practically grew up in Western State Hospital.  I did Friday movie night there for years.”

It’s a small world, and we all touch someone with mental illness. It’s great to know we have leaders like Mike and Susan Rynas, the Shoreline Police Department and NAMI Eastside to help people with mental illnesses, their families and our communities.