BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Mental health professionals across the state are discussing some of the biggest events over the past few years and the impact they’ve had on our mental health at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 2022 State Conference.

These past few years have not been the easiest for anyone, that’s why the conference’s theme focused on “Rebuilding Healthy Communities.”

“Mental health has been tested like it has never been tested before,” said NAMI Peer Support Specialist Jessie Smith.

He lives with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

“You pump money into the gas companies, you pump money into technology, what about us?” asked Smith.

He inspires others with his story across the state, including at the NAMI state conference.

“I was told coming up that I could not overcome this because of my race and my economic background,” said Smith.

NAMI Louisiana Executive Director Lashonda Williams said mental health professionals and social workers are working to tunnel Louisiana out of the pile of issues built up these past few years.

“Mental health is a very important factor in this community and in our world, and now we know that since all of these disasters and things have happened more people are talking about their mental illness. So we are just trying to figure out how we can work together as a community,” said Williams.

Smith said that after 19 years of sobriety, the pandemic challenged him.

“I relapsed when COVID hit. You know what I was thinking? I was thinking, ‘Boy, if everybody’s going to die I might as well die drinking,'” he said.

According to NAMI, if you struggle with mental illness, you’re not alone. One in five U.S. adults experience mental illness and 17 percent of kids between the ages 6-17.

“There’s an increase in suicide rates in kids. So it’s very important for us to just make sure that we’re getting the help in bringing those resources into the schools and making it easier for the parents,” said Williams.

Smith said helping people is his passion purpose.

“Hang in there and get educated,” he stated.

NAMI has backed several bills in the legislative session like Senate Bill 61, which would provide those with mental health a special symbol on their license plate to show their not alone and to help inform law enforcement.

If you are someone who needs help or you know someone who needs help, the NAMI HelpLine can be reached at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.