NAMI was formed in 1977, when Harriet Shetler and Beverly Young, two mothers, each with a son with schizophrenia, met over lunch to discuss the similar challenges they shared raising a child with a serious mental illness. At a second lunch, the women, both active in civic and charitable activities, decided to assemble people with similar concerns.
In April 1977, about 13 people met at a nightclub in Madison. Mrs. Shetler suggested a name, Alliance for the Mentally Ill, partly because its acronym, AMI, meant “friend” in French. Within six months, 75 people had joined.
Upon hearing about a similar organization in California, Young and Shetler hit upon the bold idea of holding a national conference. They hoped that as many as 35 people would come to Madison in September, 1979, but 284 representatives from 59 groups (representing 29 states) showed up. Among them were mental health professionals, including Dr. Herbert Pardes, then director of the National Institute of Mental Health and now president and chief executive of New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
By the end of the conference, a national group, The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill had been formed, named and financed. NAMI, renamed The National Alliance on Mental Illness to further reduce stigma and the discrimination associated with mental illness, is now based in Arlington, Virginia. NAMI has over 1,000 local affiliates groups comprised of those suffering from mental illness, family members, friends of people with mental illness and professionals.
The Alliance for the Mentally Ill (AMI) of Wisconsin, an affiliate of NAMI, was incorporated in 1981, and now has 34 local affiliates representing the majority of the counties across the state. NAMI Wisconsin, Inc., taking its current name from the national name, is supported by 2,000 individual, household, and professional memberships.