In Good Faith: 'This is the job I was meant to do'

abredeson@islandpacket.comJune 6, 2014 

Sarah Eliasoph is the executive director at National Alliance on Mental Health on Hilton Head Island.

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Name: Sarah Eliasoph

Organization: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Town: Hilton Head Island

Involved for: Five years

Position: Executive director

A variety of hats. I've spent the past five years explaining what NAMI is over and over and over again to different organizations, to different people. I speak in churches. I go to Rotary. I go all over the place. ... I run across people in supermarkets and just start talking and find that they're looking for some place like NAMI. They didn't know it existed, or they have a family member (with mental illness). ... I do all the grant writing. We own 10 apartments that we rent to people with mental illness. We manage those. I run many of the programs and find volunteers for them, make sure our volunteers are trained. ... I run the crisis intervention program for the police and law enforcement. Mostly, I run the educational programs, the support group program, and we kind of divide and conquer the community outreach because so much is involved.

We need more. We need to be spreading out. We're doing a lot here in Beaufort County. ... We need to have mental health court down here, and I've been reading in the papers that's suddenly popped out in front of the public. It's a wonderful idea. ... We need an improved judicial system. Boy, do we need assisted living and affordable housing down here. That's another thing we're going to have to push uphill to see if we can get. That's what NAMI does. We work from the bottom up.

An illness. It's nothing to be scared of. Very few people with mental illness are violent, and that tends to be if they're not on medication or in therapy, getting the help they need. Our job is to make sure people aren't afraid of saying mental illness exists, to help get rid of the stigma. There's so much misinformation out there; it's ridiculous. ... I think the public perception is that mentally ill people are the ones you can spot, the difficult people. ... We have teachers, businessmen, all ages, all different levels of education who have suddenly had a crash and burn. ... We also have so many people who work, who hold onto full-time jobs, who are doing great, and you'd never know they have a mental illness. It's the hidden part of the illness that makes people so suspicious of what it is and have such wrong ideas about it.

Singing her heart out. I go to All Saints Episcopal Church on the island. I've been a singer there in the choir. I arrived there 19 years ago. ... I also sing with the Hilton Head Symphony Chorus, and I occasionally sing in Savannah, which I love to do.

What I was meant to do. (Working at NAMI) has opened my eyes to a whole host of things that I did not know before. Having had no experience in mental illness, I realized how much there is to be done. ... This is the job I was meant to do, and I'm so lucky to have found it.

Follow reporter Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.

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