March 05, 2021

Talking about mental health

‘In Your Own Voice’ presentation helps people share their mental health journey

Sharing personal stories is one way the National Alliance of Mental Illness Central Iowa reaches out to help those struggling with mental illness. It is one way they hope to change the stigma that surrounds mental health issues so people don’t feel as though they are alone.

NAMI Central Iowa Executive Director Angela Tharp and presenter JD Deambra attended the virtual January meeting of the Jasper County Cares Coalition to present a shortened version of the “In Your Own Voice” presentation. Tharp said this is a tool the organization uses to help the audience meet someone with a mental health condition who is willing to tell their story and answer questions.

“When we bring this to groups and businesses, we get overwhelming responses that this was actually the key they needed to help talking about it more in their group,” Tharp said.

Tharp cued up the video that flashed between several groups of two people telling about themselves, which eventually led to talking about their struggles with mental illness. Each person in the video explained when they first experienced the onset of symptoms and their personal journey with the disease.

Deambra intercut three different sections of the video with his own story. He told about growing up in New York State with an abusive mother who sexually, verbally and physically abused him in his childhood. The day his step-father father abandoned their family was really when his struggle with mental illness began.

He struggled in early adulthood and when his suicidal thoughts landed him in the hospital was when he was diagnosed as bi-polar. Even then he didn’t get the kind of help he needed.

“It wasn’t until I moved to Iowa in 2000 and started seeing a therapist here that I was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, which is multiple personality disorder due to all the abuse as a child,” Deembra said.

His journey with mental illness is still ongoing but he has reached a point where he knows how to manage the disease and what his triggers are. Now he works with NAMI to tell his story and to help others on their own journey.

“Doing these kinds of things, talking to people who maybe don’t know there’s people out there who walk the streets and do things very well and have a mental illness,” Deembra said.

Deembra is a board member for NAMI and helps facilitate the peer-to-peer zoom meetings and helps with several support groups on top being a presenter for the “In Your Own Voice” video.

“We are blessed. JD has taught me a lot. I value his ability to be authentic and transparent and to use his life’s ups and downs to help other people. It’s truly inspiring,” Tharp said.

Typically, the presentation would include two live presenters to go along with the video segments. It provides two voices talking about their mental health journey. Often more time is allowed for discussions and questions. While the presentation given to the coalition gave a condensed version, it is still about members to see the benefits of such a program.

“I think the snapshot of this presentation is something we can take back to our organizations and see where we can plug it in not only within the organization but within the community. I appreciate that little snapshot to see where that can go in the future,” Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess said.

Contact Pam Pratt at 641-792-3121 ext. 6530 or

Pam Pratt

I have been at the Newton News since October 2014. I started as the Associate Editor and was promoted to Editor in April 2019.