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PEOPLE LIVING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS AS TEACHERS

NAMI's Family-to-Family Circle Expands

By Kurt Douglas Sass

In April, I had the honor to attend a three-day training seminar for almost twenty new teachers of NAMI's Family-to-Family course, the free 12-week course taught by family members to other family members.  Our training session, led by Joyce Burland, the creator and director of the Family-to-Family Education Program, proved to be a moving and informative experience.

In addition to reviewing key elements of the Family-to-Family class--everything from the etiology and treatment of the various mental illnessess to medication complience, problem solving, self-care, empathy, communication skills, rehabilitation and advocacy--Ms. Burland gave us some very useful tips for handling personality conflicts or time management issues that may arise in the Family-to-Family classroom.

Above and beyond the excellent information provided during this fast-paced weekend, I remember feeling most excited about the tight bond that formed between those of us who participated in the training.  Once again it became clear to me how true it is that by sharing our hopes and frustrations with other family members we can be relieved of the tremendous feeling of being alone; the sense that "I'm the only one going through this" dissipates.

In many cases, the most overwhelming feeling that a family member gets when their loved one is diagnosed with a mental illness is one of complete helplessness; they usually have little to no realistic idea of how the illness will alter their world. These feelings are compounded ten-fold if their loved one needs to be hopitalized or refuses to take their medications or see their doctor.  It's very possible that the family member--a parent, sibling, spouse, or even a good friend--will find themselves exhaused, physically and emotionally.

There's an old adage that knowledge is power.  I'd like to add to that: knowledge is power, and it is also hope and confidence.  The Family-to-Family courses gives family members a feeling of empowerment, hope and confidence.  The course shows people that all is not lost, and although coping with a loved one with mental illness is a humongous endeavor, it is something they can handle and endure.

Kurt Sass is a NAMI NYC Metro board member.  His experience with mental health issues ranges from that of family member, to living with an illness himself, to volunteer and advocate.


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