A HelpLine Story

Andrew Posner Shares His Experience as a Volunteer with the NAMI HelpLine

By Bob Nassauer and Andrew Posner

The NAMI HelpLine is a free, nationwide peer-support service providing information, resource referrals and support to people living with a mental health condition, their family members and caregivers, mental health providers and the public. HelpLine staff and volunteers are experienced, well-trained and able to provide guidance.

The NAMI HelpLine is contacted over 70,000 times a year by people across the U.S. who are affected by mental health conditions and are in need of help. HelpLine Information and Resource Referral Specialists provide a vital service to the NAMI community by responding with empathy to inquiries by phone, SMS/chat, and social media posts, and by providing valuable information about mental health conditions and treatment options, NAMI education and support programs, and other mental health resources.

Recently, Andrew Posner, a dedicated volunteer with NAMI Washtenaw County (who is  now a graduate student in Colorado) completed a stint as a NAMI HelpLine volunteer.  Here is what he had to say about his experience:

The experience was very valuable for me (I am about to start my MSW and had little background in the mental health field previously other than local NAMI programs). There is a very wide range of callers, including many family members of people with serious mental illness, those looking for treatment for mental illness and addiction, those trying to navigate social services, those looking for emotional support, those in crisis, etc. Since the primary function of the helpline is information and resource referral, the training helps you quickly get to know which resources are more appropriate to give out in which situations and how to manage the conversations so they generally stay in the 10-20 minute range. 

There’s a real sense of immediacy and connection in the work of helping such a wide range of callers, which I felt to be rewarding. It’s a more intense volunteering experience than most local NAMI programs and pulls at your heartstrings in different ways, since you can’t follow up on anyone you’ve helped and you’re not working in person with anyone, but for me that was well compensated for by the callers’ relief and gratitude when I helped them well. Some calls can be frustrating because there’s not much we can do for them (especially with regard to finding housing and/or when a caller’s loved one is in that middle territory where they’re very ill but not in crisis, yet, and some other situations) so volunteering also cultivates a lot of equanimity.

The staff is available for support and feedback while on the shift through the Slack platform, and the training materials and staff oversight are excellent. There are many people working there now (The NAMI HelpLine has 12 full-time staff members and 150 volunteers and interns) so the staff can be flexible with regard to scheduling and commitment. I worked between 4 and 12 hours per week. They’re great people and I found them a delight to work with.

Thinking About Volunteering for the NAMI HelpLine?

  • HelpLine volunteers answer questions, offer support and provide practical next steps. 
  • They understand, many from their own experiences, listen and offer support.
  • They are informed on NAMI Programs, NAMI Support Groups and how to locate your local NAMI Affiliate.
  • They are trained to help identify the best resource options for an individual’s concern.
  • They are knowledgeable and a source of accurate information about relevant topics.
  • They care.

Unfortunately, the NAMI HelpLine is unable to provide mental health counseling, advice, personal advocacy or referrals to mental health providers or lawyers.  The NAMI HelpLine does not provide individual casework, legal representations or any type of individual advocacy.

The NAMI HelpLine is not a hot line, crisis line or suicide prevention line. 

If you are interested in applying to the NAMI Helpline, you can find more information and the application here

Bob and his family live in support of their 36-year old daughter who lives with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He is a retired management consultant and former board member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Washtenaw County. Bob continues as an active volunteer with the organization working on several projects. He also serves as a state trainer for the NAMI national signature programs Family-to-Family and Ending the Silence/Parents and Teachers as Allies.

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