Heroes for Health: Debby Ganaway

This spotlight series is designed to profile members of the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health. Over the coming months, the series will feature individual Collaborative members, each of whom is integral to the group’s efforts to forge stronger connections and establish new approaches to strengthen the social and emotional development of our children.

This series is an opportunity to highlight and recognize the diverse individuals, services and resources available to the Racine community.

Who: Debby Ganaway, former Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Racine County (NAMI-Racine).

Website: www.namiracine.org

Email: dganaway@wi.rr.com

Phone: 262-637-8223

Twitter: @NAMIRacine

About NAMI: NAMI-Racine is a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the quality of life for all individuals affected by mental illness through support, education and advocacy. Founded in 1979, NAMI provides assistance to members of the Racine community through seven different support groups, public and family education courses, resources, public communication and events, among others. NAMI-Racine is a Partner-Provider of United Way of Racine County and is an affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and of NAMI-Wisconsin.

Words from Debby, a Hero for Health

I have had the profound opportunity to lead an organization where every person believes in the mission of improving the quality of life for all persons affected by mental illness. For me, this has been both a professional and personal journey. At NAMI Racine, I worked with incredible people who bring incredible compassion to the work they do each day. In addition to being Executive Director, I have experienced first hand the support this organization provides to individuals and families throughout our community.

As a mother, I could tell that my 14-year-old daughter, Katy, was changing. With the help of a psychiatrist, we discovered that she suffered from bipolar disorder. At that moment, everything changed for my family. The reality is that mental illness impacts everyone: the individual who is suffering, the family who loves them and the larger community of which they are a member.

We must all expand our understanding of mental illness. It is an illness that manifests itself in behavior that is too easily interpreted to be a result of character flaws, bad parenting or delinquent behavior. However, it is an illness, and too many individuals and their families continue to suffer in silence. Increased awareness, early intervention and sound treatment are integral to helping individuals suffering from this illness acquire the tools and skills to go on to live vibrant, productive and meaningful lives. Shifting our collective understanding and awareness of the issue is what organizations like NAMI and initiatives like Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day and the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health are about.

One in four individuals are prone to developing a mental illness, making it an extremely common condition, and it is affecting our youth. Half of mental health issues occur before the age of 14. Yet children are resilient and early intervention can mean the difference between an illness that rules their lives and an illness that they can learn to manage.

Sixteen years after her initial diagnosis, Katy took her own life. I think about Katy every day, including whether even earlier diagnosis, treatment and medication may have made a difference.

Even with all my work on the issue of mental health, I never imagined that it might impact me as a mother. Yet, both professionally and personally, I’ve experienced first hand the need to equip our children with the skills and tools they need to live.

When we lost Katy, NAMI Racine provided my family with immeasurable support and compassion. This is a reflection of what NAMI Racine is all about. It is an organization filled with compassionate and dedicated individuals who are committed to supporting all individuals affected by mental illness.

Throughout my role at NAMI Racine, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with many different organizations and to be at the table to address key issues in our community. I’m proud of the work this dedicated group has done. And, while leaving is difficult, I’m delighted to pass the baton to Michael Boticki and look forward to seeing the organization achieve its next level of greatness.

While I may be stepping away from the day-to-day demands of leading such a robust organization, I am delighted to remain involved with the Crisis Intervention Team training for law enforcement and the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health. I may be slowing down, but my work is not over yet!

See all Heroes