Award-winner changes lives through service
Trauma affects the lives of many families, even more so those of the mentally ill. The experience of challenge and trauma began to affect the lives of Carson Valley resident Sandie Draper and her family in the early years of the life of her daughter, Kristine. Yet a mother’s determination to understand, and stand up for her child has led to improving the skills of hundreds of first responders and to improving the experience of thousands of troubled and mentally ill individuals in Northern and rural Nevada.
Kristine Draper as a child was often challenging, demonstrating what were called “behavioral issues.” At 16 came her first overdose on Vivarim; it was not until she experienced a psychotic break during her pregnancy that it became clear she suffered from a brain disorder, or mental illness. Says Sandie, “we simply did not know to question whether Kristine had a mental illness, and once we knew, we found it was almost impossible to find and receive consistent, high-quality services.”
Sandie went to work for the Dispatch Center of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department in 1990, and then for the County Emergency Services Department, ending her career with Douglas County at the library. Through her work she learned how first responders function, and also not to be intimidated by law enforcement. She also found the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. In August 2013 her husband saw a notice in the newspaper for Family to Family, one of NAMI’s signature education programs that teaches families about mental illness. Sandie attended the class and for the first time gained a deep understanding of mental illness, of the impacts on her daughter, and on her family.
Kristine, meanwhile, continued to resist accepting a diagnosis and engaged in behaviors that resulted in multiple interactions with police, emergency services, and jail.
In 2014 local advocates began the process of forming the Western Nevada Affiliate of NAMI, and Sandie soon joined the Board of Directors. As NAMI Western Nevada began to develop its programs of education, support groups, and advocacy it also became an integral part of the growing Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training movement within sheriffs’ departments and other first responders. “Because of my first-hand experience in advocating for Kristine during her many interactions with law enforcement,” says Sandie, “I was asked to be part of CIT training in Reno, then in Carson, and now in many areas. I get passionate, I get emotional, but given my own work experience with the sheriff’s department I know the officers want to learn how to interact with compassion and without escalating situations,” she says with a smile. “And I see the change CIT is making in the culture and practices of first responders. It’s rewarding.”
In addition to serving on the board, Sandie is also now a certified Family to Family trainer, as well as a trainer for Homefront, a NAMI program designed for the families of veterans suffering from PTSD, anxiety, and /or depression, and just recently became a NAMI Basics trainer.
Sandie Draper is being honored for her contributions as NAMI Western Nevada’s Volunteer of the Year, with the award ceremony to take place during the fourth Annual Unmasked Gala at the Minden CVIC Hall on Oct. 4 (visit http://www.namiwesternnevada.org for information). Her fellow award winners are Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong, Leadership Award, and Northern Nevada Correctional Center Warden Isidro Baca, Change Maker.
“Our award winners this year represent the heroic way in which many components of the criminal justice system have recognized that they are the de facto treatment system for the mentally ill and have decided to build their skills to make safety, stabilization, and a step in the direction of recovery a priority within their systems,“ said Sarah Adler, NAMI Western Nevada president. “The countless hours, intelligence, and compassion that Sandie Draper devotes to this work is truly an inspiration. I invite her community to come and celebrate her on Oct. 4.”