Somewhere to turn

. October 23, 2012.

Suzie Ryan believes individuals can live with mental illness and still be active and productive.  It’s a philosophy she’s developed through professional and personal experience.

Ryan, the Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Hancock County (NAMI), took a circuitous route to reach her present position. Her career path to date includes stints in managing volunteers, fundraising and development, real estate sales and even director of the Hancock County Humane Society.

Originally from Ripley, Ohio, Suzie graduated from the University of Kentucky where she met her husband, Ed . When Ed joined Marathon Oil Company, the Ryans moved to Findlay and Suzie became a stay-at-home mom to three daughters.

“I think I gravitated toward non-profit organizations as a career choice because I had volunteered for so many of them when the girls were young,” Ryan recalls. “I helped out at school, volunteered for Blanchard Valley Hospital and served on countless committees.”

Career changes

When Brooke, her youngest, entered 7th grade, Suzie returned to the working world and became the first director of United Way of Hancock County’s Volunteer Center. She also earned a degree in organizational management at nearby Bluffton University, and was eventually offered a position with the University’s Department of Development. 

Ryan’s energy and enthusiasm led her to the position at the Humane Society, then back to the field of fundraising and development. She was helping a friend with her interior design business when Brooke called her attention to a “help wanted” ad in The
Findlay Courier.

Finding NAMI

“The ad was for an executive director of NAMI of Hancock County,” Ryan remembers.  “I wasn’t familiar with NAMI, but Brooke was insistent that I apply for the position. She said they ‘needed me’.”

A much more personal reason drove Suzie to inquire about the position. While in college, Brooke
was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and depression. The Ryans were suddenly one of those families that needed help.

“I got an interview and was hired,” Suzie recalls. “I remember being so impressed by NAMI’s mission. Our family had been touched by mental illness and I wanted to help families who were going through the same thing.”

Gaining momentum

Suzie is now in her second year as NAMI’s director and is the only paid staff member, working with a board of directors and several volunteers. She feels two of the local agency’s programs have had a special impact on how families deal with mental illness.

The “Family to Family” program consists of 12 weeks of classes targeted to family members of individuals with mental illness. Developed by a psychologist, Family to Family is celebrating its 20th anniversary as a national NAMI offering. Classes are conducted by a trained facilitator, who has also experienced mental illness. The next session begins on Tuesday, September 6 and runs through November 15.

Another program developed at the national level is “Peer to Peer,” which provides support and ongoing self-development for consumers of mental health services. A new session of Peer to Peer is planned for mid-November.

Where to turn

“I get calls all the time from people who just don’t know where to turn,” Ryan adds. “Although NAMI does not provide clinical advice, we can refer to other agencies and work closely with Century Health in Hancock County. “

Suzie’s passion is helping to erase the stigma of mental illness. She feels many individuals and families don’t seek help or treatment because of fear of what others will think. To help bring mental health issues to the forefront, several volunteers coordinated a “Walk for NAMI of Hancock County” last May which raised nearly $20,000 for the organization and provided lots of information and education.

Another event, scheduled for October 21, will be an “Unmasked Ball” which is intended as a fundraiser and to “unmask” mental illness. The Halloween-themed ball will be held at Riverbend’s Bruggeman Lodge.

“As I look back on two years with this great organization, I really think we’re making progress,” smiles Suzie. “We’re proving that people can cope with mental illness and still be productive members of our community.”

For more info on NAMI of Hancock County’s programs and services, contact Suzie Ryan at 419-957-9423 or email