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Jefferson Award winner, May 2019: Nancy Abraham

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MADISION (WKOW) -- 84-year-old Nancy Abraham has fought the stigma of mental illness for decades.
She started a national movement to get people like her son, the help they need.
"He was a very intelligent child." Nancy raised her son Dylan as a single mom.
"I did work as hard as I could to be supportive."
After a successful high school career, something changed.
"He had a complete psychotic break. He was diagnosed with mental illness, May 5, 1974, one year after graduation from high school."
Schizophrenia had taken over Dylan's life.
"It tends to produce hallucinations, auditory and otherwise, delusions," says Nancy. "I was determined that I would not commit Dylan."
In a time when most people facing mental illness were committed to hospitals, Nancy and Dylan searched for another way to beat the brain disorder.
"We could've worked as hard as we were working, forever and where were we going to get, really?"
So, she reached out to other mothers in Madison whose children were also battling schizophrenia. In 19-77, 12 of them got together.
"In one evening, we decided we would form what we'd called the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Dane County." And a movement was born.
"It was a lot of advocacy. It was a lot of going to a lot of meetings, taking a lot of our night time to impress on decision makers what was needed."
Word spread quickly around the country about the grassroots effort and after just two years, they called a national conference in Madison.
"About 280 people came to that national conference. In one weekend, the National Alliance was formed."
It's now known as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI.
Anna Moffit is the executive director of NAMI Dane County.
She says, "Our mission is to provide education, support, advocacy and awareness for individuals impacted by mental illness."
It's a mission Nancy and Dylan have taken around the world, over the past four decades.
"It was a mother-son team out there advocating for people, advocating for ourselves, families, persons with mental illnesses," says Dylan.
Now, there are nearly a thousand NAMI affiliates around the country, reaching millions of people.
They provide support programs, community education, and advocate for increased funding and better access to quality mental health services, shaping public policy.
Nancy Abraham changed the course of history for the mentally ill, a beautiful example of the power of a mother's love.
"We rode the storm and we came out on the other side and we've done it, ya know. We've survived and I've survived," says Dylan.
For more information or to reach out to NAMI Dane County, click here.

Amber Noggle

Anchor, 27 News at 5, 6 and 10

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