Nami President Rebecca Coursey’s Journey of Healing and Advocacy

by | Feb 2024

IN THE dimly lit room of a small community center in Bowling Green, Rebecca Coursey sat surrounded by a circle of individuals who shared an unspoken bond. Each face carries the weight of mental health struggles, but in this space, they find solace and understanding. Coursey, the president of Bowling Green’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), has turned her struggles into a beacon of hope for others.

“I live with bipolar disorder,” she shared, her voice carrying both vulnerability and strength. 

“I needed to be around those who understood what I was dealing with.” 

Little did she know that this decision would lead her on a path of profound transformation and advocacy.

Coursey’s connection to NAMI goes beyond personal struggles. Over a decade ago, she lost her sister to suicide — an experience that left a mark on the lives of so many.

“My sister passed away in 2010. She overdosed intentionally. Nobody likes to say the ‘S’ word. That’s something we need to change. We need to be able to talk about suicide,” she asserted.

“It just really changes you when you lose someone close to you in that way,” Coursey admitted as she explained that far too many have experienced the heart-wrenching reality.

Coursey speaks openly about the health care system regarding her sister.

“The whole mental health system, community, and all the resources need to get together and try to help people that don’t maybe know they need it,” Coursey said.

As the president of NAMI Bowling Green, Coursey took it upon herself to revamp the local affiliate. While sitting in her support group years ago, she didn’t know that she would one day become the president of an organization so near and dear to her.

“I didn’t want the organization to fizzle, you know, fall apart,” she confessed. 

With a renewed sense of purpose, she made NAMI more accessible through technology, ensuring that anyone could participate in their programs regardless of financial constraints.

One such program is the in-person support group at Western Kentucky University, a cause close to Coursey’s heart. Having experienced mental health struggles as a student at the university, she understands the fragility of that time for college students. She thinks having a NAMI chapter on campus will raise awareness and show students it is okay to seek help and resources.

The students will learn how to speak openly about mental health, host fundraisers, and be a support system on campus. 

“They will get to do fun things instead of it being completely serious all the time,” Coursey said, with a hint of enthusiasm cutting through the gravity of the topic.

Coursey’s commitment extends beyond support groups. She’s involved in advocating for mental health courts as an alternative to incarceration for those whose actions are rooted in mental health issues. 

“I’m really passionate about that. And then we’re doing a lot of outreach to veterans as well,” she shared, her dedication evident.

Coursey certainly doesn’t stand alone. She’s part of a coalition, a network of community partners working toward a common goal. There are 16 members in NAMI Bowling Green. 

“We’re volunteering. We’re not getting paid for what we’re doing. We all need to work together for the common goal.”

In her journey, Coursey has faced challenges, including the revelation that a 16-year-old can decide whether or not to seek therapy without parental consent — a fact that surprised and saddened her. However, she has always remained passionate, fueled by the belief that awareness and resources can make a difference. She is one of the many community members who constantly show up to advocate and supply those resources. 

“I don’t think the community knew NAMI existed until we started attending different events with our table and all our materials,” Coursey admitted. 

“Even the [Veterans Association] said they didn’t know who we were before, but now we are actively helping our veterans.” 

The organization’s efforts to raise awareness through a new website and active social media presence have made a difference. The community can donate to Bowling Green NAMI by visiting their website, bowlinggreennami.org, where all donations are tax deductible. 

“We’re doing this because it means something to us, and we just encourage people to reach out if they need it,” she said, her voice resonating with a sincerity that cuts through the silence surrounding mental health. 

Coursey’s journey is one of resilience, compassion, and advocacy. Through NAMI, she has not only found healing for herself but has become a guiding light for those grappling with the darkness of mental illness. In a world that often shies away from discussions about suicide and mental illnesses, Coursey stands as a testament to the power of courage and conversation in rebuilding hope. Her work with NAMI is a testament to the positive impact local organizations can make in communities like Bowling Green. GN 

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