About NAMI Tennessee

NAMI Tennessee is a grassroots, non-profit, self-help organization made up of people with mental illness, their families and community members. We are dedicated to improving quality of life for people with mental illness and their families through support, education and advocacy.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of persons living with serious mental illness and their families. Founded in 1979, NAMI has become the nation’s voice on mental illness. With organizations and affiliates in every state, NAMI effectively provides advocacy, research, support, and education about serious mental illness. Members of NAMI include consumers, families and friends of people living with mental illnesses, mental health providers, students, educators, law enforcement, public officials, politicians, members of faith communities, and concerned citizens.
As early as 1984, the Tennessee Mental Health Association proposed forming and overseeing a statewide support organization for the families of people with mental illness. But some family members, including Joyce V. Judge of Knoxville, had another idea: that family members should form and oversee their own statewide support organization.

A model for such an organization already existed. Called AMI (Alliance for the Mentally Ill), it had been founded by two women from Wisconsin, mothers of individuals with mental illness who initiated the national organization in 1979. By 1984, AMI was organizing in states nationwide and becoming NAMI in the process. In 1985, Judge attended the NAMI convention in New Orleans and became determined to bring the zeal and urgency she saw there to Tennessee.

Tennessee’s support groups for families of persons with mental illness numbered four, located in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville. Separately they could do little, but together and affiliated with NAMI, they could have an impact on federal legislation and bring better programs to the state. The support groups came together in the fall of 1986 at Fall Creek Falls State Park. They called their organization TAMI. TAMI opened an office in Knoxville, sharing space with KnoxAMI. More support groups were soon established–first in east Tennessee in Sevier, Blount, Loudon, Washington, Anderson and Roane counties, followed by organizations in middle and west Tennessee.

The 1990’s: The Decade of the Brain

During the 1990s, NAMI Tennessee followed the lead of NAMI and focused on research funding and insurance parity. The public and policy makers began viewing the brain as an organ whose disorders could be diagnosed and treated successfully. NAMI Tennessee became the second state to pilot the family education program, The Journey of Hope (JOH), funded by a grant from the Center for Mental Health Services. NAMI Tennessee’s programs expanded to include Building Recovery and Individual Dreams and Goals through Education and Support (BRIDGES), the educational program of the Tennessee Mental Health Consumers’ Association (TMHCA). It was developed in Tennessee in 1995.

During the 1990s, NAMI Tennessee advocated actively in the areas of federal and state policy. For many years, NAMI Tennessee headed a coalition of advocates favoring legislation requiring insurance parity for mental health treatment. NAMI Tennessee successfully opposed a TennCare ruling preventing persons with mental illness from receiving prescriptions for new, more effective drugs. Members of NAMI Tennessee also worked on the Governor’s panel to revise Title 33, the Section of the Tennessee Codes relating to mental health services. Tennessee mental health laws had not been revised in over 50 years and dealt with institutional care rather than community care.

As a result of the revisions, persons with mental illness no longer could be detained in a non-medical facility used for the detention of persons charged with or convicted of a criminal offense. Instead, persons with mental illness who are experiencing severe impairment are to be observed for 24 to 72 hours when psychiatric certification is given. Governor Sundquist signed this legislation into law in 2000.

During this same period, NAMI Tennessee members also advocated for safe, affordable, appropriate housing for persons with mental illness. Families had long known that housing is a vital part of recovery. For more than 10 years, NAMI advocates urged the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities (TDMHDD) to fund a housing program.

The 2000’s: New Challenges

Each year, starting in 1998, NAMI Tennessee presented a housing resolution asking for a program to the department and to state legislators. As a result, TDMHDD employed a housing specialist in 2000. This specialist launched a program called Creating Homes Initiative (CHI), with a slogan of 2005 by 2005. This goal of creating 2005 new housing units was met by 2002. The new goal became 2005 More!

Concerned about the increasing numbers of persons with mental illness who are jailed in Tennessee, NAMI Tennessee advocated a program to address the problem. In response, the TDMHDD created a network of Criminal Justice/Mental Health Liaisons in 24 Tennessee counties. These liaisons help divert mentally ill persons who have become involved with law enforcement into treatment, rather than incarceration. With nearly 4,000 members, NAMI Tennessee moved its offices to Nashville and expanded its staff. Sita Diehl was hired as Executive Director, a strategic plan was adopted, and the by-laws were rewritten, streamlining the organization. New affiliate groups were established bringing the total to 36. In the face of severe TennCare cuts, NAMI national chose Tennessee as a Mind of America state, increasing advocacy resources for the state.

Today, NAMI Tennessee depends on the hard work of a dedicated group of volunteers to provide a telephone Help Line, education programs, support groups, as a well as an e-newsletter, and monthly general education meeting.

Board of Directors

Executive Committee

Donna Maddox

Sylvia Phillips
VP East

Heather Rohan
VP Middle

John Mehr
VP West

Ginger Naseri

Ann Taylor Knotts

Nancy Killen


West Tennessee

Middle Tennessee

Donald L. Smith

Mark Kulhanek

Jim Briggs

East Tennessee

Ron Morton

Janna Jahn

Peer Leadership Council Representative

Dr. John Tetzeli

Presidential Appointees
At-Large Representatives

Dr. Cynthia Rector 

Kimberly Wells


NAMI TN is dedicated to:

  • Enhancing the message of recovery in the state, while offering meaningful support to those who are affected significantly by mental illness
  • Encouraging, educating and supporting diverse families; cultivating new partners
  • Direct involvement with Tennessee Legislature, administration and mental health stakeholders to influence public policy and improve quality of life for all who are affected by mental illness.