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October’s mental health focus includes community walk

October is an important month for mental health:

■ It is Emotional Wellness Month.

■ Mental Illness Awareness Week runs through Oct. 7.

■ Oct. 10 is World Mental Health Day.

Also on Oct. 7, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the largest mental health grassroots organization in the country, will host its NAMI Walks Fall United Day of Hope event, where thousands of people across the country gather to spread awareness on mental health.

Our local chapter serves Las Vegans with free mental health support, online groups, resources and education.

I recently caught up with Trinh Dang, the executive director of NAMI Southern Nevada. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Dr. Sheldon A. Jacobs: How did you get connected with NAMI?

Trinh Dang: I found NAMI because I grew up with family members that had mental health challenges. My family were refugees who fled Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The way that the war impacted my family and having to resettle in America impacted how I was raised and grew up.

Anyone who has been through war, whether it is the veteran side or the civilian side, knows how traumatic it can be sometimes. Seeing some of the impact and effects of the intergenerational trauma, even though I did not go through war myself, I witnessed firsthand the impacts it had on my family.

I saw my dad coped with alcohol, my mother struggled with anxiety and depression, my grandmother hearing voices and having severe mood swings, which led to her not being able to sleep at night.

This was the norm for me until I learned about mental health by taking psychology classes in college. I realized then there was something more going on.

When I reached out to the counseling and psychological services department at my college, they provided me a NAMI brochure, and that is how I first learned about NAMI.

How has NAMI affected you?

My first introduction to NAMI was being in a room full of people who understood and had that life experience as family members and as caregivers and loving somebody that had mental health challenges and realizing that I am not the only one.

My background was in teaching, so I trained to become a volunteer so that I could teach the NAMI classes, and I just fell in love with the work. In January 2020, I officially stepped in as executive director of NAMI Southern Nevada chapter, and I am blessed every day to be able to wake up and do the work that I love and see what the needs of our community are. I enjoy getting creative and talking to different people about ways we can address the huge mental health issue in our community.

What are you looking to do in this role?

I want to make sure that we are building a community where people feel safe to open up and they are able to receive the support where they are not being judged for whatever challenges they are going through.

We have also received feedback that many people do not only want a community where they are sharing problems but where they can socialize. So we have created wellness classes that entail journaling, yoga, Pilates, to name a few, where people can come together and build up a social network and feel like they have a home and a community.

I also want to bring the NAMI structure to diverse populations such as those that are underserved, including youth, so that they have a program where they can receive support because many mental health challenges start in childhood. So we have slowly started the work.

What is happening on Oct. 7?

NAMI Southern Nevada is hosting its first NAMI Walks in over a decade. It is another way to bring the community together. The event will be held at Lorenzi Park from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will be entertainment, community vendors and food trucks. The route of the walk will be around the lake at the park.

You can register for the walk at namiwalks.org/namisouthernnevada. There is no cost for registration, but donations are welcomed. For additional information, visit namisouthernnevada.org.

If you are thinking about suicide, or are worried about a loved one or friend, help is available 24/7 by calling or texting the Lifeline network at 988. Live chat is available at 988lifeline.org.

Dr. Sheldon A. Jacobs, Psy.D., LMFT, is a licensed mental health professional based in Las Vegas. Contact him at drjacobs10@hotmail.com. Follow @drjacobs33 on X and Instagram.

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