“Never give up hope” are words Teresa Bomhoff kept telling herself decades ago as she sought help for her children who were struggling with mental illnesses.

They are words she continued to say as she helped launch NAMI Greater Des Moines, a mental illness support group for parents that often met in Bomhoff’s Des Moines home. They are words she’s said to herself before speaking to Iowa legislative committees, as she sought financial support for services for those with mental illness and their families. They are words she’s said to family members of people with a mental illness.

And they are words she continues to say as she explains much work is left in educating the public about mental illness.

“We need to continue to provide education about mental illness – how to cope with it, how to manage it – whether it’s the person with the illness, whether it’s family members, whether it’s an employer,” said Bomhoff, 70, chairperson of the Iowa Mental Health Planning Council and one of this year’s Business Record Women of Influence.

“The next thing we need to do is make sure employers are provided with the appropriate education about mental illness health care for their employees.”

Until recently, often when employers found out an employee had a mental illness, the worker wound up losing his or her job, she said. 

“We’re better, but we still have a long way to go,” said Bomhoff, who retired in 2011 after working 39 years at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Des Moines office of Rural Development. Her first job with the agency was as a clerk typist for which she was paid $2.40 an hour. When she retired, she was assistant Iowa state director.

Included in training for new recruits to the Des Moines Police Department is a weeklong session on crisis intervention. The training involves a panel discussion with family members of people with mental illness, wrote Lorna Garcia, the department’s mobile crisis liaison officer, in a nomination letter. 

Bomhoff helps assemble the panel and often shares her story with the recruits, Garcia wrote. “Teresa’s account of her experience from a mother’s perspective is powerful, compelling and emotional.”

In the coming years, Bomhoff said she’d like to start turning over much of what she does to new advocates and leaders in the area of mental illness. A newsletter she produces each month is one way she’s sharing information she’s accumulated on mental illness, she said. The newsletter often includes new research about mental illness, statistics and links to helpful websites.

“I can’t keep doing this forever, so that’s one reason why we try and get as much information out there,” Bomhoff said. 

 

THREE AREAS OF INFLUENCE
1. She is a strong and knowledgeable advocate for those experiencing mental illness, frequently testifying before Iowa Legislature committees on the topic.

2. Began the monthly National Alliance on Mental Illness-Greater Des Moines newsletter, which started with 60 subscriptions and now has nearly 5,500.

3. Continues to shine a light on mental illness by sharing the experiences of family with myriad groups and encourages others affected by mental illness to share their stories.