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Nyden wins award for children’s mental health activism

Nyden was inspired by her own child’s mental health disorder. Photo by Mayu Sakae.

By Megan Tcheng

Professor Tammy Nyden, philosophy, received the prestigious Isabel Turner Award at a ceremony hosted by the Iowa City Human Rights Commission late last month.

The annual award recognizes the distinguished efforts and concerted volunteer contributions of human rights activists across the state of Iowa. Turner, for whom the award is named, served as a passionate activist for human rights and the environment in Iowa City. Over the course of her career, Turner actively participated in the Iowa City Human Rights Commission and, as a member of the Johnson County Regional Planning Commission, she helped to enact the county’s extensive transportation plan.

Nyden, a passionate advocate and local activist, was honored for her dedication to the improvement of Iowa children’s mental health services. As a concerned citizen and the mother of a child with a mental health disorder, Nyden has spent the last two years working to enact reform on local and state level. From the beginning, Nyden’s efforts have largely been inspired by her personal experiences as a parent and her struggle to access comprehensive mental health resources for her child.

“When we were initially trying to find help for [our son], we came across a range of different support groups, but we couldn’t find any advocacy organizations that focused specifically on children’s mental health. I just wanted to join a movement — I hadn’t planned on starting one,” Nyden said.

Nyden was inspired by her own child's mental health disorder. Photo by Mayu Sakae.
Nyden was inspired by her own child’s mental health disorder. Photo by Mayu Sakae.

After recognizing the lack of available resources for children in need of mental health support, Nyden, along with two similarly motivated families, created Parents Creating Change, an Iowa-based advocacy group. Starting as a small Facebook group, Nyden’s coalition grew from the ground up.

Following the organization and gradual development of their group, Parents Creating Change eventually associated with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). As a larger, nationwide organization, NAMI presented Nyden and her partners not only with direct resources, but also with a larger platform for their organized efforts. Ultimately, the relationship allowed for the formation of the NAMI Iowa Children’s Mental Health Committee, on which Nyden currently serves as an active member.

Within the past year, the Iowa Children’s Mental Health Committee has enlisted the support of a range of related member groups, including professional institutions, local organizations and individual politicians. The committee also released a formal, statewide call for action, which directed attention towards the redesign of children’s mental health services.

Since the document’s 2015 release, the call for action has served as an impetus for government-wide conversation. After over two years of work, Nyden and her fellow committee members have helped to raise awareness for children’s mental health and enact growing change.

Reflecting on her plans for the future, Nyden is quick to point out Iowa’s remaining areas of weakness.

“We want a system that is protective and that will help to make all kids as resilient as they can be. Even beyond that, we need to account for children that are at risk — whether it be in terms of their genetics or their personal upbringing,” Nyden said. “As a society, we can prevent so many of the difficulties of life on disability. First, though, we need to help these kids and give them access to resources.”

Nyden is hoping to conduct a MAP this summer on children’s mental health policy with students from a variety of academic disciplines. Students interested in participating in this MAP should contact Nyden at [nyden].


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