National Alliance on Mental Illness local chapter forms to raise awareness in Kittitas County

Board members strive to prevent suicide and ‘save lives’


NAMI board member and Ellensburg Poet Laureate Marie Marchand and NEAR founder Nan Doolittle. Photo courtesy of Marie Marchand

Katherine Camarata, Lead Editor

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a nationwide organization that seeks to destigmatize discussion surrounding mental health and provide resources for people with disorders and their families. The Kittitas chapter of NAMI was created at the start of the pandemic by board member Marie Marchand to bring NAMI’s offerings to this community, and programs are set to begin this year.

One of the goals of NAMI is to really reduce this stigma across the world, because the less prejudice there is, the more people feel that it’s okay to ask for help, and then that reduces suicide rates,” Marchand said. “So really, the goal is to save people’s lives.”

The drive behind the NAMI board

Marchand said she was drawn to this work because her home life growing up was “chaotic.” Marchand’s brother dealt with schizophrenia and substance use disorder and her mother was in and out of hospitals battling depression. Marchand’s background includes working at the Downtown Emergency Service Center in Seattle for the mental health drop-in center and later working at a transitional housing facility for houseless people with mental disorders. 

In high school, I was developing bipolar disorder,” Marchand said. “So working with people and in the field was also a good way for me to learn coping strategies and resilience for my own illness.”

Marchand said she decided to become more open about her own diagnosis in 2014. 

“I thought that for my own mental health, it would be better if I could be open about it because I didn’t want to be ashamed of it,” Marchand said. 

James Donaldson, a NAMI Kittitas and NAMI Seattle board member, additionally said he was driven to this line of work because of the situations he has overcome in his own life.

“I myself went through a lot of mental health challenges,” Donaldson said. “That really drove me to the verge of suicidal ideations and thinking about ending my life. I made it my life’s work now to be a voice and an advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.”

Donaldson was a former player in the NBA and volunteered with NAMI Seattle for three years prior to starting with NAMI Kittitas. He said he made it through his personal struggles after his doctor helped him realize he had a problem.

Donaldson published a book about his journey and process called “Celebrating Your Gift of Life: From the Verge of Suicide to a Life of Purpose and Joy” which is available on Amazon. 

“The 12 months I went through my depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, it was 12 months of pure hell and darkness,” Donaldson said. “But I made it through. Finally, that darkness started lifting and I realized that I have a purpose. I have a reason to continue living and helping other people.”

Donaldson said statistics show that two out of five people will deal with mental health challenges at some point in their life, and this number could be on the rise due to the pandemic and social media use. The fact sheet said that, “One in four American adults experiences an episode of mental illness per year.”

Donaldson’s work with NAMI Kittitas includes visiting middle and elementary schools to give presentations about mental health where these issues are prevalent.  

“When I go and speak to school-aged kids, invariably there’s three or four young people that come up and talk to me individually after my talk and let me know that they’re suicidal right now,” Donaldson said. “They don’t know how to get through the day and these are 12 year olds and 13 year olds, 14 year olds. It’s such a shame and a tragedy that we don’t feel comfortable enough to talk about it and to reach out for help when we need to.”

Donaldson recommended youth who struggle with mental health take a break from their normal routines to find stillness within.

“My advice to them is really trying to get to know themselves,” Donaldson said. “A lot of times, we don’t really acknowledge who we are and what we’re going through inside, but if you take a few moments a day to just put your phone down, tune out of the social media for 30 minutes or an hour and just sit still, be quiet with yourself and get to know and love yourself again, that will go a long ways toward maintaining that healthy balance. I know it’s hard to do because social media is like an addiction. It’s hard to break that cycle, but these are the steps.”

NAMI Kittitas offerings

NAMI is currently training facilitators to run their signature program, and they are also planning to offer a peer recovery support group called Connection in May and a virtual family support group for those whose loved ones deal with mental health challenges. These offerings will be available through their website,

“I want to encourage people to look for those support groups, because they can be the perfect complement to medical treatment for those looking for emotional support,” Marchand said.

Marchand said NAMI also offers the “In Our Own Voice” program, where their two trained volunteers can speak at different schools or businesses about their stories with mental health conditions.

“Anybody could contact NAMI Kittitas if they want to help stomp stigma at their workplace or their classroom and they can host an ‘In Our Own Voice’ training,” Marchand said.

NAMI is hosting a community forum event at the Hal Holmes Community Center on March 31 at 6 p.m. in order to, “unveil ourselves to the community so people can find out where they fit in,” according to Marchand. 

Marchand said they are searching for volunteers and interns, and interested people can reach out via their website