Iowa Rep. Lisa Heddens, of the District 46, announced this week that she has taken a new position as the Executive Director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, of Central Iowa.

In the new position, which she has already started, Heddens will continue to follow her passion for helping people with mental illness, as well as their families, by creating an environment of understanding and offer places they can go for help.

“Part of our goal is to support, educate and advocate individuals with mental illness and their family members or the community to further understand, further eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness,” Heddens said.

Heddens had previously worked as the Service Coordinator for Lutheran Services in Iowa for the past five years, but has also spent much of her life working with and advocating for those with mental illnesses and disabilities.

“I got my degree from Iowa State in education, I’ve worked in some capacity in the disability field from when I worked at what was then called Iowa Protection and Advocacy, it’s now called Disability Rights Iowa, to ASK Resource Center that specializes in the rules and regulations of special education. I’ve worked in the brain injury field to my early childhood work to this,” Heddens said.

She added that outside of her professional experience she has also had some very close ties to mental disabilities on a personal level as well.

“Being a parent of a child with an intellectual disability, I know some of the system and being a legislator I have that other perspective as well,” Heddens said.

With that experience, Heddens said that she hopes to help families navigate the system to make sure they are getting access to the resources available. Those resources involve support groups for people living with mental illness as well as a monthly support group for family members who are affected by mental illness.

“So if you have a daughter, a sister or brother or anything where you need that additional support,” Heddens said.

According to Heddens, NAMI also provides educational programs such as a 12 session family to family program.

Heddens said the program is designed for “family, significant others and friends of people living with mental illness.”

“It’s an evidence based program and it’s taught by NAMI trained family members who have been there. It’s always good when you’ve got that peer, someone who’s been through it and understands it,” Heddens said.

In this position, Heddens said she will also be support legislation as an effort to advocate for people living with mental illness.

According to Heddens, her decision to take this position came down to the thought of what more could she do to assist people who are in need of services but don’t quite know how to go about getting them.

“It is an area that I have a passion about and it is kind of another way to help people. I feel very fortunate with my life and what else can I do to help others or make things easier for others,” Heddens said. “That’s what I want to do.”

For anyone looking for these types of services or more information about programs that NAMI provides, Heddens suggested that people go to the website www.namici.org or call (515) 292-9400.