NAMI Wisconsin Grassroots Icon

Mission & History


NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization providing advocacy, education, support and public awareness.  Learn more at


NAMI Wisconsin's Mission

NAMI Wisconsin is the state affiliate of NAMI. The mission of NAMI Wisconsin is to improve the quality of life of people affected by mental illness and to promote recovery. NAMI Wisconsin will accomplish its mission through the following:

  • Promote public education and understanding of mental illnesses.
  • Advocate at all levels of government and throughout the public sector to improve mental health care in Wisconsin.
  • Support affiliates by providing follow-up advice and counsel; educational and training programs and materials; access to financial resources as appropriate; and by offering conferences, seminars, and presentations.
  • Establish and strengthen local affiliates to keep with NAMI's principles and guidelines.

NAMI Wisconsin History

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NAMI was formed in 1977, when Harriet Shetler and Beverly Young, two mothers, each with a son with schizophrenia, met over lunch to discuss the similar challenges they shared raising a child with a serious mental illness. At a second lunch, the women, both active in civic and charitable activities, decided to assemble people with similar concerns.

In April 1977, about 13 people met at a nightclub in Madison. Mrs. Shetler suggested a name, Alliance for the Mentally Ill, partly because its acronym, AMI, meant "friend" in French. Within six months, 75 people had joined.

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Upon hearing about a similar organization in California, Young and Shetler hit upon the bold idea of holding a national conference. They hoped that as many as 35 people would come to Madison in September, 1979, but 284 representatives from 59 groups (representing 29 states) showed up. Among them were mental health professionals, including Dr. Herbert Pardes, then director of the National Institute of Mental Health and now president and chief executive of New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

By the end of the conference, a national group, The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill had been formed, named and financed. NAMI, renamed The National Alliance on Mental Illness to further reduce stigma and the discrimination associated with mental illness, is now based in Arlington, Virginia. NAMI has over 1,000 local affiliates groups comprised of consumers, family members, friends of people with mental illness and professionals.

The Alliance for the Mentally Ill (AMI) of Wisconsin, an affiliate of NAMI, was incorporated in 1981, and now has 34 local affiliates representing the majority of the counties across the state. NAMI Wisconsin, Inc., taking its current name from the national name, is supported by 2,000 individual, household, and professional memberships.

The Story behind The Iris

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The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) adopted the Iris as its emblem after the historic sale of Les Irises, a painting by Vincent van Gogh, in 1987. Les Irises was painted in the garden of the asylum at St. Remy, in the south of France, in May 1889 when van Gogh was having his most desperate battle with a mental illness, now believed to have been schizophrenia. From the asylum he wrote numerous letters to his brother Theo. In one of these letters, Vincent wrote a haunting account of his illness: "As for me, you must know I shouldn't precisely have chosen madness if there had been any choice? What consoles me is that I am beginning to consider madness as an illness like any other, and that I accept as such."

During this period of his life, van Gogh reportedly painted at a frantic pace. He was discharged from the asylum, but the illness recurred and the following year he committed suicide. His paintings from this period are regarded by experts as his greatest works. Throughout folklore, the iris has been regarded as the symbol of faith, hope and courage, one for each of its three sets of petals, and was given as encouragement to anyone who was suffering.

Read the latest issue of NAMI Wisconsin's newsletter, The Iris!

NAMI Wisconsin has affiliates in various counties all over Wisconsin! See a list of all local affiliates and get information on the services that each county in Wisconsin offers: