Over the last few months, America has witnessed a rash of school shootings such as the May 23 tragedy in Santa Barbara. Mary Gilberti, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recently addressed this situation, stating “Clear facts in tragedies emerge slowly. … However, it does seem clear that Mr. (Elliot) Rodger (who was responsible for the tragedy) received some mental health treatment and at least one welfare check by police. “When tragedies occur, it is often because something in the mental health system went terribly wrong. …” There is an urgent need to make sure that people who need treatment, especially young people, get it on an ongoing basis to avoid their symptoms escalating into a tragedy.
But even when regular treatment has been established, families of someone with mental illness realize that the illness affects many other aspects of their lives and that they need more than medical help. Where do family members turn when they are faced with the problems and heartaches that come from dealing with mental illness on a daily basis? NAMI of the Pee Dee will provide an answer with a free 12-week series of classes on Tuesday evenings beginning Aug. 26. That’s when they will sponsor the NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program for family members of persons diagnosed with a serious mental illness.
Classes will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Central United Methodist Church in Florence. The NAMI Family-to-Family course, including all materials, is free. Advanced registration by Aug. 16 is required because the classes are limited in size. For more information or to register, call Lou Hanna at (843) 413-1500 or Betty Hardaway at (843) 230-7720. E-mail inquiries can be sent to Hanna at firstname.lastname@example.org or Hardaway at bmahardaway@ gmail.com. The course is designed for relatives and care-giver friends of persons who have been diagnosed with serious and persistent mental illness or who exhibit behavior that strongly suggests such a diagnosis.
The course is not appropriate for individuals who are themselves suffering from one of these mental illnesses. Family-to-Family was designed and written by mental health professionals who have direct experience caring for a relative with mental illness. This structure assures that participants get the most help from this program. The co-teachers are also family members of someone with a mental illness. The teachers have received extensive training to make the course successful. “This course is a wonderful experience!” teacher Hanna said. “The most common reaction I get from participants is that they wish they had known about this course before. We hope families of people who have a serious mental illness will take advantage of this unique opportunity.”
The course balances education and skill-training with self-care, emotional support and empowerment. It provides information about schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and co-occurring brain disorders and addictive disorders. Basic information about medications commonly used to treat these illnesses and the side effects of these medications is presented. Skills which will be covered include coping skills, handling crisis and relapse, listening and communication techniques, problem solving and limit setting.
The course employs role-playing workshops to help participants learn some of these skills. The course also covers how to provide emotional support by understanding the actual experience of people suffering from mental illness as well as how to recognize and deal with the normal emotional reactions families have to the chronic worry and stress they face. In addition, Family-to-Family covers how to connect with appropriate community services and community supports. It also promotes empowerment and advocacy to bring about better mental health services and fight the stigma and discrimination mentally ill persons often face.