Sometimes “the real thing” is right in front of you, and you miss it. Denise Stewart is just that, the real thing. Not only does she volunteer by teaching others about mental illness through NAMI Tennessee, but she is a past client of NAMI Tennessee, graduate of its programs, and lives out what she learned every day as a wife, mother of two, and Donelson resident. NAMI Tennessee is the Tennessee chapter of the National Alliance of Middle Tennessee. She serves so people who want help with mental illness can get it.

“I get more from volunteering than I give,” says Denise Stewart, Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month. “It gives me joy to watch how much NAMI’s programs that I teach, train, and present help others.” Her service as a volunteer is more than what she learned from class. It involves her life experience of living with a mental disorder which “just about destroyed” her marriage and relationship with her children.

Denise grew up an intelligent child and began college at age 15 on a full scholarship. She excelled in her studies and extracurricular activities, never thinking of her four hours of sleep each night. She later dropped out of college to support her family, married, and became addicted to drugs and alcohol. She lived the life of a wife and mother while dealing with her addictions and mental illness symptoms she’d become accustomed to over the years of both schizophrenia and bipolar depression.

Ten years into the marriage, her husband had been searching for hope and finally discovered NAMI Tennessee. However, achieving the goals promised by hope isn’t always easy. For example, Denise became angry while in treatment for her addictions. She was so angry that five days into her 28-day program, she was asked to leave. However, suddenly she was unable to physically pick up the pen to sign the papers. This was her first spiritual experience. Her inability to sign forced her to her remain in treatment. Soon afterwards, her second spiritual experience was a wave of willingness to do absolutely anything to become her better self. As a result, she became sober at age 29 and found recovery from mental illness at age 34.

Denise credits NAMI Tennessee for saving her marriage, her relationship with her children, and keeping her alive. She carries out the nonprofit’s message of hope in her daily life and volunteerism. She encourages others saying “Family members of those in crisis do not have to go through this alone.” For more information about NAMI Tennessee, visit

Doing Good is a local 501c3 nonprofit which celebrates those who do good. For more information or to nominate someone for Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month, visit

Marissa Sells

Doing Good is a 501c3 non-profit that provides marketing and public relations tools, resources, and opportunities to non-profit and government agencies to celebrate their volunteers.

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