The National Alliance on Mental Illness

Supporting individuals and families impacted by mental illness

With Twilio Flex, NAMI helps more people experiencing mental illness through expanded operating hours, multichannel access, and a remote volunteer base

The National Alliance on Mental Illness


more help seekers supported throughout 2020


more volunteers actively helping those in need


In 2011, Dawn Brown’s son was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She found herself without the right resources and support to manage her son’s diagnosis and her own mental health. 

Dawn and her son were not alone. Millions of people across the United States are impacted by mental illness every year. Data shows that in any given year, an estimated one in five adults experience mental illness and 17% of youth experience a mental health disorder.  These figures represent a typical year, but when the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, 45% of people with mental illness said that the pandemic had a significant negative impact on their mental health.

In fact, organizations working to support the mental health and wellbeing of communities reported a spike in calls from individuals and families experiencing serious mental health concerns. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI for short, that are focused on mental health awareness and support have become even more critical.

The Twilio Flex platform consolidated and elevated our technology. When we went remote using the Flex platform, we were able to multiply our volunteers participating, directly helping people four times over.

Dawn Brown National Director, NAMI HelpLine Services

Leveraging technology to expand HelpLine services 

Founded in 1979, NAMI is the nation’s leading voice on mental health, working in communities to raise awareness and provide support and education to individuals and families affected by mental illness. One of the critical ways they support those looking for help is through the NAMI HelpLine, where Dawn now serves as National Director.

As Dawn knew all too well, when people experience mental illness, it’s critical they receive the help they need quickly. Yet research has shown that those who are seeking support for mental illness often run into a host of challenges in receiving the appropriate support. 

In 2020 alone, 17.7 million people seeking help experienced delays or cancellation of appointments with mental health professionals like therapists and psychiatrists; and 4.9 million people were unable to access care at all. 

That’s why helplines like those run by NAMI are vital. Trained specialists and volunteers staff the HelpLine, responding to calls and inquiries and equipping help seekers with the right tools and resources to support their mental health.

But the existing technology behind these helplines had some limitations that impacted NAMI’s ability to make the greatest difference.


Before working with Twilio, NAMI’s HelpLine operated in offices using landline phones in Virginia. Volunteers had to be physically present to answer calls and provide support. And because NAMI’s office building closes down at 6:00 pm Eastern time, so did the HelpLine. Callers who wanted support after 6:00 pm Eastern, would have to wait until the next day to receive support - not an ideal outcome for someone seeking help with their mental health.

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and with the corresponding increase in calls, NAMI realized they needed to rapidly develop a technology solution that would keep the lines open and allow staff and volunteers to safely work remotely.  

Dawn was uniquely positioned to help. With her personal experience, background in business and nonprofit management, and a passion for building innovative solutions to support people in need, she turned to Twilio to help solve the organization’s technical challenges.

A larger volunteer base courtesy of the cloud  

Twilio partnered with NAMI to implement Flex, creating a cloud-based telecommunication platform that has allowed the NAMI HelpLine to transition away from a brick-and-mortar call center to a remote one, dramatically expanding their impact.

With a cloud-based contact center platform, NAMI has been able to increase their volunteer workforce. Volunteers can respond to calls from where they are and not have to travel to the center's headquarters, allowing NAMI the flexibility to recruit more remote volunteers. Previously, there were 35-40 volunteers in a one-week time frame. Now NAMI has more than 150 volunteers actively helping those in need, and they’ve been able to expand their hours to 10:00 am to 10:00 pm Eastern time.

Using Flex, NAMI volunteers are also better able to route help seekers based on need. If someone who is calling and assessed to be at imminent risk of suicide or experiencing a mental health crisis, volunteers can connect them with a crisis counselor to receive the critical help they need. 

What’s more—with the HelpLine’s new remote volunteer workforce, quality assurance became a priority. Thanks to Twilio Flex, HelpLine staff coaches can monitor calls, web chats, and text messages in realtime to offer support and suggestions to volunteers making sure that help seekers get the best information and support possible.

“It has made all the difference in the world,” said Brown. “The Twilio Flex platform consolidated and elevated our technology. When we went remote using the Flex platform, we were able to multiply our volunteers participating, directly helping people four times over. We were able to help 65-70% more help seekers throughout 2020 and continue to see increases each month."

Using the Twilio platform, NAMI has been able to develop and test new ways to meet the needs of those looking for support. For example, after implementing Flex, NAMI worked with Twilio to expand the way that help seekers can speak to volunteers. NAMI used Twilio-powered technology to deploy a webchat and SMS text messaging feature, which allows help seekers to reach out to a volunteer over messaging, often a preferred communications method for younger help seekers and help seekers of color. By providing several channels through which someone can seek help, NAMI believes the organization is reducing barriers to this much-needed support.

Understanding who is seeking support and how useful the tools provided are was also a challenge with the brick-and-mortar HelpLine. 

Using Twilio technology, NAMI has been able to send a post-support survey to those who use the HelpLine to better understand things like who is seeking help, where they’re from and if they found the support helpful. These post-call surveys help NAMI capture information to support their advocacy and fundraising efforts, as well as improve the efficacy of their staff training and programs.