Add To Favorites

NAMI Chippewa Valley welcomes new director, aims for growth

Leader-Telegram - 10/4/2022

Oct. 5—EAU CLAIRE — An estimated one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

As of February 2021, about 859,000 adults in Wisconsin reported experiencing a mental health condition. About 70,000 Wisconsin youth ages 12-17 reported suffering from depression, NAMI stated on a fact sheet.

In Eau Claire County alone, a total of 1,710 people utilized the county's mental health services in 2020, according to the state Department of Health Services. Another 432 people utilized Chippewa County's mental health services, and 447 utilized Dunn County's.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than half of all Americans have reported an increased strain on their mental health, according to NAMI.

NAMI Chippewa Valley, a local branch of the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization, is aiming to combat these rising statistics with the appointment of its first-ever executive director, Leah Waldie.

Waldie, a Wausau native, has two bachelor's degrees in psychology and biology from UW-Madison. Since graduating in 2005, she has held a variety of mental health and social work positions in Minnesota and around the Chippewa Valley, including jobs in child welfare, group home programming and behavioral health case management.

Waldie's career in the mental health field began with a love for psychology born in high school, then further nurtured in college. But it was also motivated by her own personal experiences with mental illness.

According to Waldie, her mom experienced clinical depression when she was in middle school. Her sister, aunts and several friends also faced their own struggles, Waldie added.

"And then I went through my own experience with that at the end of my junior year," Waldie explained. "Everybody — if they haven't experienced it themselves already, they have to know at least one person who has."

Her experiences have only motivated her to help others, though. And she said NAMI Chippewa Valley has always been an organization that matches her efforts and goals.

"It's one piece of the support puzzle for mental health treatment," Waldie said. "There's psychiatrists, therapists, that kind of support, but that peer-to-peer support of people who uplift through the mental illness themselves or the family members who have lived through supporting a family member — there's a lot of power in that type of relationship that can wrap around with those other services to help in the recovery process."

Barb Habben, education program coordinator for NAMI Chippewa Valley, took part in Waldie's hiring process.

Habben said Waldie's professional experience and passion for the field made her an ideal candidate.

"She seemed very passionate about the area of mental health and mental illness, and wanted to have a chance to be a part of growing our organization," Habben said. "She just seems very personable, enthusiastic about helping us. She wants to be a part of seeing our affiliate grow. She seems very motivated to do that and just really is excited to have the position."

NAMI Chippewa Valley was established 11 years ago with the mission of providing education, support and advocacy to families and individuals living with a mental illness.

Habben said the organization has been looking to hire a director for years now, but the funds haven't been available until recently. Fundraisers, donations and grants finally made it possible.

"It really can be helpful to have someone who is able to work on a regular basis to connect with people in our area who can be able to further get involved. Because that has been an area that isn't always easy," Habben said.

For over a decade, NAMI Chippewa Valley has operated primarily on a volunteer basis, said Waldie, who started at the organization on Monday. Now, with the growing need for mental health supports in the area, she said the organization is poised for new growth — especially with regard to the area's universities and schools.

"It's exciting to think about the possibilities and opportunities, because we have different specific programs geared more towards youth," Waldie said. "That's definitely an area we're looking at."

Currently, NAMI Chippewa Valley, based out of Banbury Place in Eau Claire, offers programming like monthly Family Support Groups, Peer Support Groups, Family-to-Family educational classes and Basics classes.

Looking to the future, Waldie said she hopes to see NAMI Chippewa Valley expand its in-person programming to Dunn and Chippewa counties. With more growth, she also hopes to see more community involvement, particularly from local students and faith-based communities.


(c)2022 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)

Visit the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.) at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.