May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
I am astounded at the number of people affected by mental illness – nearly 60 million people in the United States alone. Whether it’s Bipolar Disorder, Depression, PTSD, Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Eating Disorders, OCD, or any other mental illness, it seems that everybody has something – either as the person who suffers from the illness or as the people who support him or her.
A few years ago, I was searching for help dealing with family/friends/students with mental illness. I heard about a program through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) called Family-to-Family. It’s a 12-week program focusing on education about various mental illnesses, so it’s not a typical support group. However, participants develop relationships with others who share similar situations. The program is taught by former participants who have been through extensive training. The leaders of my group, both mothers of sons with schizophrenia, were so professional and knew how to keep the discussions from straying too far from the curriculum.
In addition to building relationships and acquiring education, I also learned about activities, events and programs in my community for all involved. One other plus about this program is that it is free. I did have to pay a small materials fee, but nothing compared to what counseling would have cost.
Unfortunately, not every city has a Family-to-Family group, but NAMI is available to all. You can find it at www.nami.org.