Chester County revives its local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness

A sign reads

National Alliance on Mental Illness Walkathon sign of sponsorships and people speaking taken in Santa Monica, CA on October 1, 2011

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The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has returned to Chester County. The local chapter, based in Exton, will provide support and education for people in the county dealing with mental illnesses as well as their families.

Sara Wein, a licensed social worker and West Chester resident, is spearheading the charge as the new executive director for NAMI Chester County.

“Our hope is that our chapter is going to be able to implement some of these peer support as well as family support services here in Chester County,” Wein said. “So really bringing these folks to our community members who have really indicated and shared and have been sharing for quite some time that these services are really needed.”

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Chester County previously had a NAMI chapter. However, the all-volunteer organization was dependent on the old NAMI state organization, which shuttered in 2015. The new state organization, NAMI Keystone PA, is reconstructing the new NAMI Chester County.

While their new office space is still getting furnished, Wein said she is ready to hit the ground running.

“We know that there are folks in Chester County who are interested in these services, and so we’re going to be outreaching to them and connecting to them to see if they’d like to register for any of the upcoming trainings for either the peer-to-peer or family health help support groups,” Wein said.

Chester County NAMI is also planning to conduct a listening tour to figure out where the organization will concentrate its services.

“We know that there is a huge need among our youth, especially our LGBTQ+ youth. We know that we have a lot of diverse communities here in Chester County. We have a lot of immigrant communities. We have folks that may be unreached, and are not having their needs met,” Wein said.

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The local NAMI chapter will work closely with the Chester County Department of Mental Health/Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, which has already been working to help individuals and families dealing with mental health issues.

Tracy Behringer, the community liaison for outreach and education for the department, said the partnership should be able to address a key need for the area.

“We’re really excited to add this really big component to what we’re trying to do, and just kind of really trying to create a safety net for the overall health and emotional well being of all of the residents,” Behringer said

In the aftermath of the closure of Brandywine Hospital, the county’s only behavioral health hospital, Chester County officials have taken significant steps to fill the massive gap in mental health care.

Chester County plans to roll out a mobile mental health crisis unit as soon as July as part of its revamped three-pillar system of services.

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