Champions for the mentally ill are honored with NAMI awards
A student leader, police department, therapist/author and dedicated volunteer are among those honored in November by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Minnesota. Eleven individuals and organizations were honored at NAMI’s state convention, which was held in St. Paul. Awards were presented to those demonstrating extraordinary work and advocacy on behalf of children and adults with mental illness and their families.
The Special Board Award was given to Deborah Saxhaug, Inver Grove Heights. Saxhaug is the executive director of the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health (MACMH). She has a background in child, adolescent, and family therapy.
Before working for MACMH, she was the director of a day treatment program for Human Resource Associates and worked as a psychotherapist in private practice.
“For over 25 years she has dedicated herself to improving the lives of children with mental illnesses by providing support to families, empowering youth, educating professionals, and advocating for a better system,” said Sue Abderholden, NAMI Minnesota’s executive director. “The MACMH conference is the largest mental health conference in the state educating both families and professionals. MACMH materials are always well-researched and well-written. The Fidgety Fairy Tales are a wonderful way to change attitudes and educate youth and others.”
Saxhaug was also feted for her leadership with Youth Move Minnesota, creation of training for certified family peer specialists, work on the custody relinquishment issue and other efforts. “The children’s mental health system is better thanks to her.”
Mounds View High School student Sanjana Dutt won the Transforming Attitudes Award, given to someone who has promoted justice, dignity, and respect and worked to transform attitudes towards people with mental illnesses.
“Sanjana Dutt has worked to transform the culture at Mounds View High. She is the founder and current president of a student run mental health awareness group called H.E.A.R.T. – helping every at-risk teen,” said Abderholden.
Dutt serves as the Minnesota Youth MOVE president, a teen advocate for the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health, a member of NAMI’s young adult cultural advisory board and teen board member of the Ramsey County Children’s Mental Health Collaborative. “Clearly she has a passion for changing the way both youth and adults view mental illnesses,” said Abderholden.
Grand Casino – Hinckley was honored as Employer of the Year. This award is given to firms that show for support for hiring and retaining people with mental illnesses; take extraordinary measures to educate its employees about mental illnesses; or has create a supportive workplace for families who have a loved one with a mental illness.
Grand Casino – Hinckley does many things to support guests’ and employees’ mental health, including staff training and daily reminders about the importance of good mental health. The casino has partnered with NAMI Minnesota to bring suicide prevention classes for their employees and their community. It also offers a mental health resource area where employees can get information about mental illnesses and how to access treatment, developed a program called the Bridge Group where a group of employees receive additional training so that discussions about mental illnesses and mental health are continuous, Employees also wear green ribbons to demonstrate their support and willingness to talk about mental illness.
Two Minnesota lawmakers were honored with the Legislator of the Year Award, Sen. Susan Kent and Rep. Jennifer Loon. The award honors legislators who are outspoken advocates for children and adults with mental illness and their families.
Of Kent, Abderholden said, “Her commitment to students’ health and well-being is unwavering. She was the chief author of a bill that would focus on engagement of students instead of suspensions and expulsions. She has been the leading senator advocating for increased funding for school support personnel such as school social workers, counselors, psychologists and nurses. She is always eager to sign on to any bills that increase school linked mental health funding or provide early intervention. We appreciate her support in making sure that all students can succeed.”
“Representative Loon has been an incredible advocate for children with mental illnesses. This past February she held a hearing in her committee on the mental health needs of students in Minnesota schools. She listened carefully to the testimony, really wanting to have an in-depth discussion about what could be done,” said Abderholden. “She has consistently supported increased funding for school-linked mental health programs – going so far as to put money in her education bill for the Department of Human Services to expand the program – something that is rarely done.”
Loon was also cited for supporting suicide prevention training for teachers and extra funding to meet the complex needs of children in intermediate districts.
Warroad Pioneer reporter/blogger Kellie Knight and the Mac Weekly student newspaper at Macalester College in St. Paul were given Media Awards, for reporting on the needs of people with mental illnesses or effectively portraying the stories of people with mental illnesses and their families.
Knight wrote a four-part series about mental health starting off with the first segment titled “What’s eating rural America,” raising the issue of the high suicide rate among farmers and the reluctance to talk about it in rural Minnesota. She also wrote about children’s mental health and what rural Minnesota employers are doing to help workers.
“Despite being far from the speed and the bustle of the city, regardless of our clean air and pristine water, even with our close-knit communities and disproportionally large numbers claiming faith, we rural folk are not immune to the stress of the modern-day world. We will fall prey to anxiety and its many causes. We too suffer from the most common mental illnesses, depression, at levels nearly par with our urban counterparts,” Knight wrote.
“Knowing the reluctance to talk about mental illnesses, particularly in rural Minnesota, Kellie opened the door, she started the conversation. It was incredibly well written, and we know it had an impact on the community,” said Abderholden.
The Mac Weekly in April issued a 16-page special report about mental health at Macalester. Sparked by the death by suicide of a Macalester student, the editors and reporters decided to investigate the state of mental health care on campus. Drawing on many interviews they wrote about college policies, the impact on students, involuntary leave policies, disability services, Mac’s culture, mental illness versus mental health and resources for students.
“It was an incredible undertaking by the Mac student reporters, but the result was extraordinary. Thoughtful yet thorough, they helped the Macalester community move past their grief to take action,” said Abderholden. Excelsior resident Elaine Love was honored as Volunteer of the Year Award, for giving generously of their time, resources and energy to either a NAMI affiliate or NAMI Minnesota.
“Elaine Love is a terrific teacher and presenter, bringing empathy and her own personal story to connect with others,” said Abderholden. “She is an amazing volunteer and we can’t thank her enough for the countless hours she has dedicated to NAMI’s mission.”
Love has taught the 12-week NAMI’s Family-to-Family course and the Hope for Recovery workshop and has worked hard to raise awareness in the western suburbs.” She was described in her nomination as a force to be reckoned with and has never said no to NAMI’s needs.
Resmaa Menakem is the Professional of the Year Award winner. The author, healer and trauma specialist were
honored for providing high quality services, exemplifying best practices, and demonstrating commitment and leadership to the field.
Menakem has served as director of counseling services for Tubman Family Alliance; as behavioral health director
for African American Family Services in Minneapolis; and as a cultural somatics consultant for the Minneapolis Police Department. As a community care counselor, he managed the wellness and counseling services for civilians on 53 U.S military bases in Afghanistan. He is also a therapist in private practice in Minneapolis.
His new book, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, discusses racialized trauma, the physical nature of trauma, and how it impacts our bodies and our minds. He explores somatic treatment to create a healing process from these experiences.
Southwestern Mental Health Center was given the Provider of the Year Award, for an organization that provides mental health services that demonstrate excellence, respect and best practices. The center was established in 1959 and serves people in Cottonwood, Jackson, Nobles, Pipestone and Rock counties, with offices in Jackson, Luverne, Pipestone, Windom and Worthington.
Southwestern Mental Health Center provides a wide variety of services including outpatient mental health, the Unity House adult residential treatment facility, adult community support services, permanent supportive housing project, community support services for children, and mobile mental health crisis response team. The center recently put all of its services in a specially decorated building with integrated color theory.
Abderholden said that the center works closely with area members of the NAMI Southwestern MN affiliate. “Scott Johnson, its executive director, is very committed to providing quality services, promoting mental health and total wellbeing for their community members, and ensuring respect and dignity during all aspects of care,” she said. “
The St. Paul Police Department was given the Criminal Justice Award, for demonstrating a strong commitment to decriminalizing mental illness.
After a tragedy, Deputy Chief Mary Nash called people together including NAMI, 911 operators, police, the mental health crisis team and emergency departments. The department has since made significant changes, including an intensive effort to provide all officers with Crisis Intervention Team training.”
“The 911 operators can now make a warm hand off to the crisis team,” said Abderholden. “A mental health unit was established, where officers receive additional training on mental illnesses and whose job it is to connect to people in the community who are struggling with their mental illnesses to connect with the care they need, helping to significantly reduce mental-health-crisis-related arrests and repeat calls for service.”
Other efforts include contracting with agencies to have social workers co-respond with police officers to a mental health crisis and partnering with NAMI to ensure the voices of people with mental illnesses are heard.
The St. Paul Police Department is a participant in the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) One Mind pledge, a campaign to ensure successful interactions between police officers and persons affected by mental illness.