The San Diego affiliate of NAMI began in the early 1970s as a group called “Parents of Adult Schizophrenics.” These parents met around their kitchen tables to give each other support in this era during which parents were thought to be the cause of their children’s mental illness. In 1978, the chapter incorporated. That same year, the California Alliance on Mental Illness (now NAMI California) was also incorporated while the following year the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) was incorporated and is now headquartered in Arlington, VA. Our San Diego group became San Diego Alliance for the Mentally Ill in the 1980s and NAMI San Diego in 2000.
While many NAMI affiliates have only a phone number, NAMI San Diego has an office that houses paid operations staff and the volunteers who staff the phone service. NAMI San Diego has a Helpline which is located in the Albright Center. It was named after a client, Jim Albright, who, in 1984, raised the need for a center to Dr. Robert Moore, Medical Director of Mesa Vista Hospital. Dr. Moore arranged for the Vista Hill Foundation to make a monetary contribution that was matched by a federal block grant back through the County of San Diego in 1985.
Project Payee was first program (after the Albright Center) in early 1993, followed by the County Crisis Line in fall of that year. The first formal education program offered was Schizophrenia Education for Families and Caregivers in 1999 followed by Family-to-Family and In Our Own Voice the next year.
We also began training people to be NAMI Support Group facilitators in 2000, and started a search for a bilingual employee to help with education and outreach. NAMI C.A.R.E. began in 2001 with support from The Catholic Worker. We trained the first Peer to Peer mentors in 2002, funded primarily by families that had graduated from and loved Family to Family, and began the most intense Peer to Peer program in the country in 2003 funded by The California Endowment. After that push to get NAMI programs going, we turned to outreach to let people know about what we do.
- We see a well-integrated group of people living with mental illnesses and others affected by mental illnesses working together to reach all of the community with NAMI programs.
- We envision the community profiting from NAMI’s efforts and recognizing that NAMI makes it a better place in which to live, send their kids to school, secure and keep jobs, find housing, and live with a mental illness.
- We also see our identifying more needs for more programs and doing what it takes to provide those programs.
NAMI San Diego Founder and former President, Helen Teisher (left), celebrates the organization’s purchase of our office buildings and Open House in 2002 with Karenlee Ross and the unveiling of her portrait.