Our History

Grassroots Beginning

In October 1995, a small group of people with at least one family member suffering with mental illness got together and discussed mental health issues and needs in Billings, Montana.  The general consensus of this group was that the services and programs in our community could be improved to better support the mentally ill and their families.  As a result, a small organization called YAMI (Yellowstone Alliance for the Mentally Ill) was born.

In the early years, YAMI was challenged to help educate our community about mental illness, offer support to consumers and families and advocate for better treatment for mental illness.  Although not always an easy task, the founders of YAMI were up to the challenge and fought for what they believed.  Dee Holley, with a family member with mental illness, spearheaded the efforts.  As Executive Director, a volunteer position she held for eight years, Dee led tirelessly.  Her husband, Dr. Paul Holley, helped and cheered her on, both fighting for the cause they knew all too personally.

Building on the cornerstone of NAMI National, and using all of the drive and knowledge they possessed, our founders created a strong foundation for what we now know as NAMI-Billings.  In 2005, NAMI National changed the name of our organization to its present form: the National Alliance on Mental Illness, better representing the partnership between consumers and families.

Today, with a 13-member board and over 300 members, NAMI-Billings has grown to become an organization recognized for its ability to provide encouragement and personal help to individuals with mental illness, their families and friends and their health-care providers.  At the present time, NAMI-Billings is the only affiliate in the state of Montana with a permanent office setting and staff.  It is recognized as a powerful local affiliate by the state and national headquarters.

Educating the Community

Throughout its history, NAMI-Billings has offered wide-ranging educational opportunities.  The Family-to-Family class is provided on a regular basis for family members of those with mental illness.  The Basics course teaches parents of children with mental illnesses how to manage the very special needs of these children.  The Peer to Peer course offers an in-depth plan for recovery and relapse prevention for people with mental illnesses. Support groups for individuals with mental illness and their families are a safe arena to express and work through problems associated with the daily effects of mental illness.  In these support groups and occasional social activities, people with mental illness can gain valuable insight and have meaningful contact with others who know the daily struggle of lives that sometimes seem out of control.

NAMI-Billings provides educational offerings to the community in a variety of settings.

From the local and state levels all the way to the national level in Washington, D.C., NAMI-Billings is doing its part to help people with mental illness have a voice before our legislators and law-making bodies.

Looking Ahead

The need for NAMI-Billings is so great in our area that we must grow and increase our outreach.  New programs are being developed and piloted to meet the changing and increasing needs of the Billings community.  The future of NAMI-Billings lies in the strength of our membership and core programs.  We will continue to support, educate and advocate for the rights and dignity of the mentally ill and their loved ones.



NAMI is a unique organization. It began when 254 people met in Madison, Wisconsin in September of   1979 to consider how to help themselves and their mentally ill relatives.  In one emotional and unforgettable weekend, these pioneers formed a true grass roots family movement. Although there were a number of concerned and caring professionals and providers in attendance, the founders were determined to make NAMI an organization governed for and by families and consumers. (The term ‘consumer’ is used to describe those who suffer from mental illness.  It is used because, as ‘consumers’ of various health and support services, they must be involved in the development and management of those services, as well as the underlying research).

By 1980 NAMI achieved incorporation, received non-profit tax-exempt status, and elected an initial Board of Directors. Early efforts centered on making connections with small family support groups across the nation. An annual conference was planned and a newsletter was published. We were really on our way!

From the beginning, NAMI was focused on the unmet needs of people suffering from the most severe and disabling forms of mental illness — schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder and severe depression. These are the persons most in need of long-term help and support.  Severe mental illnesses are extremely stigmatized in American society.  For decades parents were blamed as the cause of their children’s mental disorder.  NAMI families found courage and hope in joining together to advocate for needed changes in public policy and attitudes.

NAMI has been persuaded by current research that major mental illnesses are biochemical brain diseases which can affect anyone, and which are without known prevention or cure.  These are not rare disorders.  The National Institutes for Mental Health (NIMH) research has shown that as many as 8 to 10 percent of all Americans suffer from severe mental illness, and as many as 1 in 5 families are affected.

NAMI opened its first office in Washington DC in 1982 and began the work of influencing Congress, the Administration and key decision-makers, and filled an important gap. In a field long dominated by physicians and other professionals and service providers, NAMI brought the long silent voice of caring families and consumers. Early leaders spoke out boldly for greater attention to those afflicted with schizophrenia and affective disorders. NAMI began to ask for accountability from a government that was not making a significant investment in either research or services focused on mental illnesses.  Thousands of families have come “out of the closet” to join NAMI and embrace the mental illness agenda. Today NAMI numbers over 203,000 members and approximately 1,200 affiliates in nearly all 50 states!

Growth brought diversity to the NAMI membership. In 1985 a Consumer Council was formed to ensure stronger representation from those who have suffered with psychiatric illnesses. Networks have also been created as a way for members who share a special identity or focus to meet and work together. By the late 1980’s, state chapters had been formed in 46 states.

NAMI is truly a family-based organization, united in the belief that by working together positive differences can be made in the lives of loved ones. To that end the organization is built on four cornerstones: SUPPORT, EDUCATION, ADVOCACY and RESEARCH.  All across the country, the family movement is working to bring hope and progress to thousands of people with severe mental illnesses.