The organization began in 1976 when a small group formed to protest the closing of Hastings State Hospital and advocate for the savings to be used for community services. A “kitchen table” coalition led by Pat Solomonson, a mother who had been unable to get services for her son with schizophrenia, took on the legislature for the first time. “We’ll do anything. Just call off the mothers,” one legislator said after the fledgling group of family members barraged legislators with phone calls and visits to get the state to transfer funds from the closing of the hospital to community mental health services. The legislators gave in and provided a little over $1.5 million—the first state monies for community mental health programs in Minnesota, which was called Sharing Life in the Community (SLIC).
This was only the beginning.
1977-1986: From Kitchen Table Coalition to Statewide Network
That small group of concerned family members became the Mental Health Advocates Coalition (MHAC) and continued to work for increased funding for mental health services, ultimately securing millions of dollars for community support programs, day treatment, crisis intervention, drop-in programs and residential programs. Their efforts set the stage for mental health reforms and the community mental health system in Minnesota.
In 1979, people gathered in Madison, including Minnesotans, to form the National NAMI organization. In 1984, MHAC led a group of 18 mental health organizations to form the Minnesota Mental Health Legislative Network (MHLN), joining forces to become one voice for their common legislative concerns. MHLN remains a force to this day.
Beyond advocacy, MHAC provided education on the commitment process, state hospitals, and homelessness, developed a media campaign to address stigma, and began to educate service providers. MHAC solidified its statewide presence by creating 20 affiliate groups, along with support groups for family members and a self-help network for those living with mental illnesses.
In 1986, MHAC, became a NAMI state affiliate and changed its name to the Alliance for the Mentally Ill (AMI) of Minnesota.
1987-1996: Expansion of Community Services and Education
AMI Minnesota continued to advocate for increased funding for mental health services and was instrumental in the passage of the Adult Mental Health Act (1987) and the Children’s Mental Health Act (1989). The organization also led the fight against housing discrimination. AMI Minnesota was at the forefront of the Recovery Movement, asserting that people can and do recover with the right services. To that end, the organization backed an expansion in community support programs, a crisis housing fund, Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) programs, drop-in centers, peer programs and employment opportunities while promoting the empowerment and involvement of those living with mental illnesses.
During this time, there was much work to be done in terms of healthcare and AMI fought to ensure that life-saving medications were affordable, that mental health care was covered by MNCare, and for mental health insurance parity. Insurance parity passed in Minnesota in 1995 and federally in 1996.
In 1994, AMI Minnesota started the Journey of Hope family education program, now known as the Family-to-Family program, which provides life-changing education and support to families of those living with mental illnesses.
1997-2006: Provision of Vital Training and Programming
AMI Minnesota became NAMI Minnesota in 1998 and was recognized for its Outstanding Advocacy Efforts the following year. In 2003, NAMI Minnesota’s advocacy led Minnesota to become the first state to require teachers to have specific training on mental illness. Advocates also worked to obtain funds to train law enforcement and correctional staff to assure they could respond effectively to those living with mental illnesses. That same year, NAMI held its first Annual Research Dinner.
NAMI Minnesota increased the number of educational programs for siblings, caregivers, consumers, and children, as well as expanded outreach to underserved populations. Staying Together, Children’s Challenging Behavior, and Hope for Recovery workshops began, providing education and support to thousands of families.
The organization conducted numerous billboard and radio campaigns to educate the public, surveyed jails on how they treated people with mental illnesses, and exposed issues of abuse and neglect in board and care homes, nursing homes, and hospitals.
2007-2016: Programming Grows
In 2007, NAMI Minnesota held its first NAMIWalks Minnesota event with 1,300 participants. NAMIWalks quickly became a game-changer for the organization in terms of raising awareness and funds for the organization’s programs.
That same year, the Open Door anxiety and panic support groups merged with NAMI. In 2006 and 2007, the MN Mental Health Action Group created a huge initiative and its passage resulted in $34 million in new funding, a model mental health benefit set funded under MA and MNCare, and funding for Crisis Teams, school-linked grants, respite care, supportive housing, peer specialists, and culturally specific providers. The legislature also directed all jails to conduct mental health screenings of inmates. In 2013, a children’s mental health initiative was funded, doubling funding for school-linked grants, creating family peer specialists and addressing workforce shortages.
Two years later, NAMI Minnesota’s children’s programming, Mental Health First Aid, and NAMI in the Lobby began and NAMI Minnesota received the national award for outstanding state NAMI.
Programming continued to expand when NAMI started the Experienced Parent Project, the Suicide Means Restriction Education program, and In Our Own Voice, which educates through personal stories of recovery. NAMI Connection weekly peer support groups also began, which remains a much needed free resource for persons living with a mental illness.
The organization worked with public television to raise awareness of the needs of veterans, adults and children. NAMI Minnesota also launched its youth website. By 2015, NAMI was offering more than 500 free classes and presentations statewide.
Legislative advocacy continued with key victories when bills on helping parents retain custody of children who need out of home treatment and adult foster care certification passed. In 2015, there was over $50 million in new funding for mental health due to the persistence of advocates.
2017 and Beyond: Our Work Continues
Executive Director, Sue Abderholden, said, “This is a civil rights movement. This is a human rights movement,” and for more than 40 years, NAMI Minnesota has been at the forefront of the movement.
NAMI Minnesota has grown from that small coalition to an organization with more than 20 full-time staff, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of supporters—all working to help over 160,000 people statewide. It is an organization fueled by passion and marked by persistence which has led to millions of dollars towards mental health services, support, and education over the years. Laws and lives have changed. The anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” and NAMI Minnesota has proven that to be true time and time again.
For a detailed timeline of NAMI Minnesota’s history and accomplishments, click here.