Connections and listening still important for director of mental health group

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Kevin Barclay

Kevin Barclay knows from decades spent working in the automobile industry the most successful salespeople make connections and listen.

Retired from the car business, Barclay now leads the local affiliate of a national organization to help people affected by mental illness. But making connections and listening remain just as important, he said.

That’s true of the support groups and outreach programs of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on the Western Slope, he said. That’s also true of informal efforts in the community.

While there’s a focus on what’s wrong in Mesa County — including one of the highest suicide rates in Colorado — he said there’s also a lot that’s right.

“We’re a very kind and caring community,” he said.

To that end, NAMI Western Slope has organized what’s been proclaimed by Mesa County and the City of Grand Junction as Random Acts of Kindness Month in November.

Along with encouraging people to be more mindful of treating others with kindness, Barclay said he hopes the observance will make people more aware of just how often that occurs.

People who witness acts of kindness are encouraged to report them on the NAMI Western Slope Facebook page located at www.facebook.com/NAMIWS.

At a time of increasing divisiveness when people seem to have lost the willingness to agree to disagree, connections bring the community together, Barclay said. “That’s such a purposeful message for all of us.”

Barclay became executive director of NAMI Western Slope in February, but has long volunteered for local causes.

He’s also a life coach, motivational speaker and stand-up comic. He wrote a book titled “Take 10: You Are 10 Seconds Away From Making a Better Decision.”

He worked for decades at Western Slope Auto in Grand Junction and was known from his television commercials as the towering manager nicknamed 6-7 Kevin.

A national association of more than 500 affiliates, NAMI has worked in the Grand Valley for nearly 30 years to help people affected by mental illness, Barclay said.

Efforts focus on support, advocacy and education and include peer-led support groups for individuals and families as well as classes and presentations to educate the public about mental illness.

One of the most important objectives of the group is to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness, he said.

By one estimate, one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illnesses in a given year. Nearly everyone struggles at times with feelings of anxiety, depression or inadequacy, he said.

Problems are compounded, Barclay said, because people are reluctant to talk about their feelings — particularly men ages 35 to 59. That shouldn’t be the case, he said. “It’s OK to not be OK.”

NAMI Western Slope doesn’t treat mental illnesses. Barclay said professionals in the community do that.

Barclay said his goal has long been to create better connections and to keep listening. He hopes others in the community will, too.

For more information about the National Alliance on Mental Illness on the Western Slope, call 462-3989 or visit the website at www.namiws.org.