Using Her Voice: Gamble Earns National Mental Health Award for Helping Others

Photos Provided Amy Gamble, executive director of NAMI of Greater Wheeling, accepts a Voice Award at an Aug. 8 ceremony in Los Angeles. The Voice Awards recognize people in the entertainment industry and individuals in the behavioral health community who work to increase awareness and understanding of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

Mental health advocate and author Amy Gamble — who shares her own story of recovery as she helps others — has earned national recognition for her work in behavioral health.

Gamble, who serves as executive director of NAMI of Greater Wheeling and has given more than 200 talks, received a Voice Award during a “blue carpet” ceremony in Los Angeles this month.

“In doing this work, I never expected to be honored or recognized. It was certainly beyond my expectations,” she said.

A program of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Voice Awards recognize people in the entertainment industry and individuals in the behavioral health community who work to increase awareness and understanding of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. SAMHSA is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“It was really, really incredible. I never expected to be honored for that work I am doing,” Gamble said. “It was so amazing to be in the company of other advocates and film and television folks who are making an impact.”

The Sherrard resident found the whole experience at the SAMHSA event to be inspiring. She said, “It renewed my spirit to keep doing the work that I am doing.”

She received one of four consumer peer family leadership awards at the event.

Also presented were a lifetime award, a special recognition award and a young leadership award, as well as several awards to people in the television and film industry. “Probably 12 to 14 people were given awards,” she said.

Gamble, a former Olympian and author of “Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor,” said 500-600 people attended the festivities, which included a dinner for the honorees on Aug. 7 and an awards ceremony on Aug. 8. Gamble’s sister, Shelley Tuskey of Glen Dale, accompanied her to the celebration.

Rick Warren, a prominent evangelical pastor and founder of Saddleback Church, and his wife, Kay, were hosts for the dinner and spoke of their role as mental health advocates. They became involved in this work after their son, Matthew, died by suicide in April 2013.

During the dinner, Gamble said, “We got to share a bit of our own personal journey.”

The awards ceremony, held the next evening, was live-streamed on the Internet, so her extended family got to watch the event. In addition, she said, “I did an interview with a local radio station. It was broadcast internationally, with the goal to reach young people.”

After Gamble gave her acceptance speech, she received “a gigantic hug” from Rick Warren, who thanked her for sharing her story. “They (the Warrens) are really, really nice people. Everyone was so incredibly nice,” she said.

In her speech, Gamble said, “I thanked my family and my NAMI Wheeling family. Without them, I wouldn’t have been there. I spoke briefly about how I struggled with bipolar disorder.”

She related that while receiving treatment for bipolar disorder, “a nurse told me, ‘It’s a brain disorder and it’s not your fault.’ It made a significant difference in the shame I felt.”

The nurse’s words have remained with Gamble. She said, “It’s something that has stuck with me for six years. Having struggled with depression for so long, I was thinking there must be something I should do to be more motivated or less lethargic.”

Sharing a message — of encouraging people to seek help and not blame themselves for mental health issues — is an important part of Gamble’s work today. She said, “I continue to reach out and help as many people as I can.”

She also hopes her recent recognition will inspire others. Gamble said, “The idea with the Voice Awards is to give a voice to those who might not have it. When I think about it, I think about people who have tragic circumstances as a result of help for mental illness not being available.”

In her talks, the advocate tells people: “Help is available and treatment works. There is hope.”

She related, “A lot of people have found a sense of not being alone. There’s been several examples of people who were willing to get help, then came out of the other side and recovered.”

Gamble recalled a young woman who had to drop out of college because of severe panic attacks, but now is employed as a peer support specialist. “She’s now helping other people who have mental illness. It’s an inspiring story,” she said.

The mental health advocate added, “To be a small cog in the wheel is completely worth all the time it takes to do this work.”

People can obtain more information about mental health resources by calling the NAMI office, 304-218-2864, or visiting its website at www.namiwheeling.org.

Gamble said she has taught a mental health first-aid class to more than 400 people and has reached more than 4,000 people through her talks.

In addition, NAMI of Greater Wheeling has reached more than 1,200 middle school and high school students with its “Ending the Silence” program for mental health awareness. Gamble said sessions were presented at 11 schools last year. The presenters have been invited back to all of those schools and have been contacted by other schools.

“We should have a pretty significant impact this year on middle school and high school students,” she commented.

Reaching that age group with “Ending the Silence” presentations is important, she said, because 50 percent of all mental illnesses begin by age 14.

“You want kids to get the help they need, especially when they’re leaving home and going to college,” Gamble said.

If teens have opportunities to have conversations and talk openly about mental health, “it’s one more barrier that gets removed to the stigma, the shame, that is attached to these conditions,” she said.

Gamble was a star basketball player at John Marshall High School and played basketball at the collegiate level before becoming a member of the U.S. handball team in the 1988 Olympics. She was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1999, but she didn’t understand the implications of the condition and opted not to take medication.

She worked for Fortune 500 companies and had a significant lifestyle, but she has said, “I ended up losing everything because of bipolar disorder.”

In 2012, Gamble became lost and was alone for three days in the Idaho National Forest because of a manic and psychotic episode. After her rescue and treatment at a psychiatric hospital, she began using her experience and her platform to help others with mental illness.

Her condition has been stabilized for the past six years. Saying “there is hope,” she emphasizes “how important it is to get the right diagnosis and treatment and sticking with that treatment.”

In the past three years, Gamble has given more than 200 talks to audiences from Cody, Wyoming, to Athens, Ohio. Through her keynote speeches, she has spoken to more than 1,000 college students about mental health awareness.

COMMENTS