National mental health organization honors St. George volunteer for commitment, dedication

Wayne Connors holds the Vicki Cottrell Award, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Wayne Connors, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A St. George man who became deeply involved as a volunteer in the mental health field when his daughter was diagnosed as bipolar has been honored for his work by the National Alliance on Mental Illness at the organization’s annual conference in Salt Lake City.

Wayne Connors was presented with the Vicki Cottrell Award last month for his eight years of dedication to the NAMI program in southwest Utah. The award is annually given to one person who has dedicated a significant amount of time, effort and commitment to the program and the individuals they serve.

NAMI is one of the nation’s largest mental health organizations, providing education and support for individuals with mental illness and their families. NAMI Utah Southwest offers both peer-to-peer and family-to-family support groups led by people who have either dealt with their own mental illness or who have supported a family member.

Read more: NAMI to offer free mental illness classes, support groups led by those who have ‘been there’

Wayne Connors receives the Vicki Cottrell Award, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Wayne Connors, St. George News

While individuals with mental health conditions usually need medication to help restore the chemical balance in their brain, NAMI provides the support groups for people to learn about what mental illness is and how to live with it, which Connors said is as essential as medication.

“As important as that, the chemical, is the support group. The family, the friends, if there’s no support group then there’s a good chance that they’re not going to be having a very good life. So we’re up for making good lives.”

Connors and his wife, Pam Connors, first became involved with NAMI when their daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After attending the class, the couple decided they wanted to give back and help others who were going through what they had.

“We need to provide the support for our daughter, and knowing what she needs we kind of transfer that over to the people who come to the meetings and are in desperate need for help,” Wayne Connors said. “We know what it takes to kind of keep things in check.”

The Connors started out teaching family-to-family classes before moving into leadership positions within NAMI Utah Southwest.

Wayne Connors was the program’s president for five years and is now treasurer and head of the steering committee, overseeing communication efforts and acting as liaison between NAMI Utah Southwest and the NAMI group at Dixie State University.

Pam Connors is the program director, coordinating locations, teachers and schedules.

The couple works around 15-30 hours to keep up with their responsibilities.

“It’s a very fulfilling position and sometimes we learn more than what we teach. It really helps us as much, or more, as some of our people in classes, the people that we help,” Pam Connors said.

Wayne Connors said he was honored to receive the Vicki Cottrell Award because of the impact that Cottrell had on the program.

Cottrell was a NAMI advocate who helped create programs including Hope for Tomorrow, the Crisis Intervention Team and family-to-family classes. She was killed in 2005 in a car crash on her way to a NAMI meeting.

“Just her way of life, she backed it and believed in it, and had passion about it and just inspired people to do things, to follow-up and get things done,” Wayne Connors said.

The Connors work to spread awareness of the program and to continuously reach out to those who have taken their courses, update students and affiliates with information about new research and legislation, and continue training staff and learning new ways to improve.

“We know what it takes and what happens when we do it right,” Wayne Connors said. “Somebody has a better life, families have a better life and I can appreciate that.”

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Twitter:  @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

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