Personality: Patrice A. Beard

Spotlight on board chair of the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Central Virginia

3/13/2020, 6 a.m.
There are millions of people managing mental illness in America, with 25 percent of adults and 20 percent of children ...

There are millions of people managing mental illness in America, with 25 percent of adults and 20 percent of children diagnosed with a mental health condition. For the thousands in Central Virginia currently living with a condition, they have a helping hand in the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Central Virginia and Patrice A. Beard.

Ms. Beard leads the area nonprofit’s board of directors, helping to direct its operations in Richmond and seven other localities since her election as chair in January 2019.

It has been a time of transi- tion for the organization, Ms. Beard says, with the exit of the executive director leaving the position vacant for the first time in 13 years.

“It’s been busy, I’ll tell you that,” Ms. Beard says. “I’m proud that the board stayed strong because it’s been a very stressful time.”

Originally organized in 1980, the group initially was known as the Richmond Area Schizophrenia Foundation before changes and a renam- ing in September 1998 to NAMI-CVA.

Through the reinventions, the organization’s mission has remained constant — to im- prove the lives and futures of Virginians with mental illness through family support, public education, advocacy, housing and research.

Partnering with groups such the Virginia Treatment Center for Children, UMFS and the Virginia Commonwealth Uni- versity Center for Psychologi- cal Services and Development, NAMI-CVA offers support groups and free educational programs and presentations for caregivers, families and people in the community.

Ms. Beard first joined NAMI- CVA in 2015 when she was looking for support and educa- tion when it came to her loved ones living with mental health conditions. Since then, she has served as a state trainer, a program facilitator and a member of the board.

Ms. Beard cites her knowledge and experience gained through NAMI-CVA as key to her role as a mental health community liaison with the Center for Family Involvement at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Partnership for People with Disabilities.

“For me, the most exciting thing about NAMI-Central Virginia is the hope it provides people living with mental health conditions as well as their family members,” Ms. Beard says.

Among NAMI’s latest achievements are establishing a support group for parents in Richmond’s East End and bringing NAMI’s “In Our Own Voice” program to the Richmond Justice Center, where personal stories of recovery are showcased.

Looking ahead, Ms. Beard sees the continuing stigma surrounding mental illness in underserved areas as the big- gest issue NAMI has to face. She plans to meet it through anti-stigma campaigns and support groups and educational programs offered for free in areas that lack mental health services. Efforts already are underway in Petersburg and Dinwiddie County.

“Stigma holds us back from so much,” Ms. Beard says. “We have to make (mental illness and mental health) easy to talk about.”

While Ms. Beard recognizes that the lack of connection NAMI-CVA has to overcome isn’t just geographical but also cultural, the potential benefits for someone like Ms. Beard —concern for themselves or their loved ones and open to lend a helping hand — are too great to do anything less than their best.

“What I want to do is reach as many people and help as many people and give as many people possible hope and the tools for this journey,” Ms. Beard says. “It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.”

Meet mental health advocate and this week’s Personality, Patrice A. Beard:

Occupation: Mental health and data integration specialist

No. 1 community involvement: Chair of the board of directors of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Central Virginia.

When NAMI-CVA was established: It was organized in 1980 as the Richmond Area Schizophrenia Foundation. It was renamed the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Central Virginia in November 1987. In September 1998, it was renamed NAMI-CVA, Central Virginia’s voice on mental illness.

NAMI-CVA’s mission: To promote recovery and improve the quality of life of Virginians with mental illness through support, education and advocacy.

Latest achievement: We recently started a parent support group in Richmond’s East End. In addition, we have brought NAMI’s “In Our Own Voice” program to the Richmond Justice Center. The program features personal stories of recovery, hope and insight into the recovery that is possible for people with severe mental illness.

Date and place of birth: April 25 in Baltimore.

Current residence: Mechanicsville.

Education: I graduated from Lee-Davis High School in 1987, Braxton Business College in 1989 as a legal assistant and have taken multiple mental health certification courses.

Family: Married to Dave for almost 27 years and two adult children.

When and why I got involved with NAMI-CVA: About five years ago, I was looking for support and education so that I could have a better un- derstanding of my loved ones living with mental health conditions.

Why I am excited about this organization: The most exciting thing about NAMI-CVA is the hope it provides people living with mental health con- ditions as well as their family members.

Communities in which NAMI-CVA operates: NAMI-CVA operates in communities across Re- gion 4, including Richmond, Henrico County, Chesterfield County, Petersburg, Hopewell, Prince George County, Chester and Dinwiddie County.

Our services are needed because: About 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 children lives with a mental health diagnosis.

Services we provide include: We provide free education programs and support for individuals, families, and the Central Virginia community. For those with lived experience, we offer Connections Support Group, Peer-to-Peer and Creative Meetup-An Art Group for Peers. For families and caregivers, we offer educational classes (NAMI Basics, Children’s Challenging Behaviors Workshop and Family-to-Family) as well as family support groups. In addition, we provide community presentations of “In Our Own Voice.”

Our financial support comes from: NAMI-CVA receives financial support from public and private foundations, corporations and individual donors.

Number of people served by NAMI-CVA: We served more than 1,290 people in 2019.

Foremost challenge facing NAMI-CVA in underserved areas: Our No. 1 challenge in underserved areas is stigma.

How we plan to address it: By developing anti-stigma campaigns and offering support groups and educational programs in underserved areas.

We could do more if: More funding was available to expand programs and services to underserved communities.

How I start the day: As positively as I can, though I admit some days I do a better job than others.

Qualities I most admire in another person: Honesty, in- tegrity and transparency.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Binge watch “Forensic Files” and investigative crime shows.

A quote that I am inspired by: I have two quotes: “Ev- erybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein, and “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” – Christopher Robin.

How I unwind: I intentionally make time to unwind whenever my schedule allows. Most times, it means putting on my pajamas, sitting on the couch and watching TV and/or playing mind-numbing games on my iPad. I also love the beach. It is my favorite place to spend time and unwind.

Best late-night snack: Anything sweet.

Biggest chance I ever took: Having children! It’s also the best decision I ever made.

At the top of my “to-do” list: Consolidating my “to- do” lists.

The best thing my parents ever taught me: You have to work hard for the things you want in life.

The person who influenced me the most: My daughter. She is, hands down, the strongest person I know.

The book that influenced me the most: “The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh” by A.A. Milne.

What I’m reading now: “The Outsider” by Stephen King.

If I’ve learned one thing in life, it is: Never take anyone or anything for granted.

My next goal: Making self-care a priority.