by Emalee Gillis, NAMI Spokane Blog Editor.

Robert Lang has been helping people navigate the mental health system in the Spokane area since 2021 as an intern. So many people were calling or emailing with questions about resources and asking for in-depth help that the staff and Board created a new full-time position at NAMI Spokane to handle those requests in August of 2022. Lang was the natural fit for the position. The goal for the position is to help people navigate the mental health landscape.

“A lot of the calls and emails I get are from family members of someone with a mental health condition and this is the first time they’ve delved into mental health. They are not familiar at all with the mental health arena and experience trepidation. I provide a guiding hand,” said Lang.

A common referral Lang receives is from someone who has a loved one experiencing a mental health condition. While the family member wants to be there for their loved one, they are unable to cope with the behavior. Often, the family member is looking for housing for their loved one because it has become too difficult to live with them. Lang encourages the family member to come by the office.

In the office, if the family member is thinking of unhousing their loved one, Lang will often show the family member a TedTalk based on the book, I’m Not Sick, I don’t Need Help by Xavier Amador. The TedTalk explains that many people with mental health disorders have a condition where they aren’t able to recognize that they are ill and they are experiencing reality in a different way. In the video, Amador breaks down communication styles to use with someone who doesn’t see they have a problem.

Lang typically spends an hour and a half or more with a family member who initially came to him looking for housing for their loved one. Those meetings have often ended with family members rededicating themselves to keeping their loved one housed with them. “I count that as a success,” Lang said.

Another frequent request that Lang receives is for help identifying a therapist. The caller may have talked to a primary care provider and may not like the options they get or they have trouble finding a counselor who is taking new clients. “People are often distraught when they are not able to find a therapist,” Lang said.

One resource Lang refers to people who are struggling to find a therapist is the Psychology Today website. This site is searchable by a variety of filters including type of insurance accepted and gender. If needed, Lang will complete the search and send the phone numbers of therapists to the interested person.

At times, when folks need a higher level of care than a therapist, Lang refers people to intensive outpatient mental health care. He tells them about programs including Rise at Holy Family or Branches at Inland Norwest Behavioral Health. In these outpatient programs, a person experiencing a mental health condition is part of a group that meets a couple of hours a day, a couple of times a week, for a couple of months. These programs focus on skill transfer to allow a person to effectively manage their illness.

Another request that Lang often handles is for affordable housing. For these requests, Lang works with Peer Spokane who has a housing person on staff and SNAP, the main housing authority in town.

“Affordable housing requests are hard to meet.” Lang said. “The chances of them finding a perfect situation aren’t great. We are definitely in a housing crunch.”

Getting the word out that Lang is available for resource navigation involves the entire staff at NAMI. Staff talk about Lang’s services at meetings with other agencies and government bodies. His services are described on the NAMI Spokane website. They are also mentioned at NAMI Spokane support groups.

To keep up to date, Lang continually researches the services provided in town and meets with other service providers. He is also interested in researching new avenues in mental health including connecting mind and body. “I always push myself to do better and never cut corners,” he said.

Lang regularly meets with really vulnerable people who don’t know what to do and are not aware that there are resources to help. “I have talked to people who have said, ‘You saved my life,’” said Lang. Others have told Lang, “Because of the work you do, I was able to heal.” He has also received many thank you’s from parents.

Rob Lang can be reached at 509-838-5515 or by email.

Robert Lang is the Resource Navigator at NAMI Spokane. He is an Airforce veteran and is currently pursuing his Master’s in Social Work and Addiction Studies.

Emalee Gillis is a writer and blog editor. She is the author of the memoir Adventures on the Path to Living Well with a Mental Illness and has a related TEDx Talk.