Person of the Week
Taking Steps to Support Mental Health & Wellness
Branford’s Daniela Giordano (right) is often at the state capital in her work as public policy director for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Connecticut. Shown with her during one of her busy days are (from left) NAMI Connecticut social work intern Gretchen Marino, Glastonbury State Representative Prasad Srinivasan, and NAMI Connecticut Communications Manager Tom Burr. Giordano invites the public to support the 2017 NAMI CT Walk in Hartford on Saturday, May 20. (Photo courtesy of Daniela Giordano )
The important work Daniela Giordano does all year long gets a little more attention in May.
As public policy director for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Connecticut, the Branford resident takes her daily work to Hartford, pressing legislators to focus on adult mental health issues and needs for individuals and families that are largely supported by non-profits, community organizations, and grass-roots groups statewide.
Daniela’s efforts get a boost in May, when Mental Health Awareness Month is punctuated by hundreds joining her at the 2017 NAMI Connecticut Walk. The walk will wind past the State House in Hartford this year on Saturday, May 20. Registration is open to the public.
“We’re trying to connect anyone who cares about mental health to become visible by participating in the walk, because it’s in [the legislators’] front yard. It’s symbolic and it also helps to raise funds for support and education of mental health issues. There are some small actions everyone can take to do this—the walk, and other events centered around mental health, is one of them,” says Daniela.
More information on joining or supporting the 2017 NAMI Connecticut Walk Stepping Toward Hope and Wellness is available at NAMI’s website www.namict.org. Those who can’t join the walkers and teams gathering at Bushnell Park on May 20 can sign up online as a virtual walker and raise donations.
According to the website, walk fundraising efforts in 2016 helped NAMI CT support more than 9,000 individuals and families impacted by mental illness. Among programs NAMI CT helped to offer, free of charge, were 150 In Our Own Voice Presentations with approximately 3,750 attendees, 17 Family to Family Classes with more than 300 participants, five Provider Ed Presentations for more than 75 provider professionals, regular meetings of 40 support groups, and much more.
The funds also helped NAMI CT strengthen affiliate engagement in public policy activities and to continue educating legislators, the public and the executive branch on impacts of proposed cuts to mental health/substance abuse services and supports.
Right now, drastic changes are underway to alter federal provisions for access to mental health care support. Those potential reductions in access are compounded by Connecticut’s huge budget deficit, which negatively affects human services and health care programs statewide. In addition, municipalities are struggling as they attempt to fill funding gaps left by state cuts.
Daniela says the need to support policy which advocates for the programs and grass-roots groups who support those dealing with mental health issues in our communities is greater than ever.
“One of the most important issues communities are facing is having a continuum of services and support and care available, and having options across the spectrum,” says Daniela. “That’s mostly what we have been focusing on, for a long time. Especially enhancing access to community-based services, such as providing basic needs and early intervention.
If you can identify some minor needs early on, it’s better from a perspective of welfare, wellness, and physical wellbeing than when the needs become more complex, bigger, and more intense,” she says.
Recognizing the need for all to enjoy quality of life may be one of the most overlooked aspects, in the eyes of the public, of why it’s important to fund and support these programs, she says. Backing the efforts of groups that provide basic needs (from housing to support groups) can be the key to opening the door to a better life for those faced with mental health issues, including those burdened by issues of substance abuse.
“It’s not just done for the sake of health and wellness, but with the goal of having a life you can enjoy. In order to have that happen, you have to be well,” says Daniela. “So there’s a bigger picture that puts a perspective on why we advocate.”
In her role, Daniela feels fortunate to collaborate with committed people from grass-roots groups to individuals and families who want to share their stories with legislators to help bring about needed change and support.
“I work very closely with people who may be less experienced in public policy, but who come through their own experience of having dealt these issues. I’m the support for the people with personal stories. I connect them with their legislators. We have an obligation to educate the people who have the power to make policy. For our legislators, what these people have to say is so important, because they are their constituents. I can gather the data and the facts, but it doesn’t come to life until they hear it from these people.”
Daniela says what the constituents have to share often backs the reams of information she brings to the table.
“I really learn from the people who share their own experiences, and what they share will often confirm my research and data that I bring to the legislators,” helping to drive home the issues, she says. “It’s really a win-win-win.”
While her work with advocacy groups, individuals, and families from across the state means she is exposed to many more heart-wrenching stories than any single legislator could ever be, Daniela says it is her privilege.
“I’ve had the privilege and the honor to work with people who happen to be living with mental health conditions. It’s very empowering for them, and very empowering for me to know what I’m doing is informed by their lives,” she says.
A native of Germany, Daniela came to Guilford 20 years ago as a live-in nanny and fell in love with this country and the shoreline area. She earned her masters in social work, with a concentration in policy practice, at UConn. Prior to joining NAMI six years ago, she was a case manager at a community mental health agency, working in direct services with adults and adolescents living with mental health challenges. A Branford resident since 2008, Daniela and husband love their hometown, where they are raising twin sons who are nearly five.
“I get energy from them! They’re very entertaining,” says this busy mom. “And I love living here in Connecticut, on the shore. I feel very fortunate to meet so many wonderful people in my personal and professional life.”