Essentia’s Barnard honored with prestigious award for mental health advocacy

July 08, 2024  By: Louie St. George

Chrissy Barnard

When Chrissy Barnard traveled to Denver, Colorado, in early June for the National Alliance on Mental Illness' (NAMI) main convention, she figured to be just another attendee, there to learn alongside likeminded colleagues.

That is, until she was announced as a recipient of the Gloria Huntley Award. Suddenly, Barnard had to give a speech in front of her peers.

“I just kind of rambled for like five minutes because I didn’t know what to say,” said Barnard, anesthesia tech department coordinator at Essentia Health. “I wasn’t expecting to receive it. I was caught off-guard.”

The prestigious Gloria Huntley Award “recognizes exemplary advocacy work by an individual or organization at the national or local level,” according to a NAMI news release.

Barnard certainly fits the bill. Her email signature lists nearly 20 different roles — local, statewide and national — in which she advocates for individuals navigating a mental illness.

Barnard is the executive director for NAMI-Lake Superior South Shore and serves on the NAMI Wisconsin board of directors. She is a member of Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’ Council on Mental Health, chairs the Douglas County Mental Health Coordinated Community Response Group and is a mental health first aid instructor.

And she has led the way for Superior’s first respite house, the Hope Haven Peer Respite, which is expected to open this year. A grant from Essentia Health will support a 24/7 hotline offering emotional support — and staffed by volunteers who are in recovery — at Hope Haven, where Barnard is the executive director.

In describing her tireless advocacy, Barnard recalls a Picasso quote, which reads: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

Barnard says she used to struggle with her own mental health, so the work hits close to home. She can share her life experiences and walk alongside others on their journeys.

“I feel that I have found my gift of mental health recovery and now my purpose is to give others the gift of mental health recovery by leading by example of what recovery can look like,” she says. “I can really connect with my peers who are struggling because I’ve been there. I’ve been to the bottom of the barrel and I’ve crawled my way back up.”

Barnard has worked at Essentia for about 14 years.

Where does she find the time to be engaged with so many organizations? Barnard says she’s well organized, and she has a lot of energy just like her parents, who “are both like the Energizer Bunnies.”

The importance of her work keeps Barnard going. She’s passionate about helping others. Being recognized by NAMI with the Gloria Huntley Award is a testament to that.

“I was surprised, shocked and then grateful,” Barnard said. “My efforts for advocacy are paying off. The most important thing is that I’m able to help other people.”

The award gets its name from Gloria Huntley, whose 1996 death — after being constantly restrained while in solitary confinement at a mental hospital — resulted in congressional hearings, legislation and regulatory reforms.

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