Mind Matters: This is why NAMI groups can be a powerful help with mental illnesses: The volunteers have lived it.

Photo by kieferpix/iStock/Getty Images Plus; St. George News

FEATURE — In 1979, two mothers in Madison, Wisconsin, had sons who were diagnosed with schizophrenia. After the diagnoses, these mothers found they were dissatisfied with the mental health services and created a support group. Thus the seeds were planted for what would eventually become the National Alliance on Mental Illness, now commonly known as NAMI.

At their first meeting, 100 individuals were in attendance. Since that time, according to its website, NAMI has grown into “the nation’s largest grassroots advocacy group for individuals and their families who are affected by mental illness.”

“There many not be a cure yet but there is recovery, and you can live a wonderful stable life.” – Wayne Connors, NAMI volunteer in St. George.

NAMI Southwest Utah serves Washington and Iron counties. It is led by program director Pam Connors and run by volunteers who have personal experience with mental illness and are rigorously trained by the NAMI Utah group in Salt Lake City to facilitate classes and support groups. Additionally, these volunteers will attend yearly conferences and workshops in order to stay up-to-date and informed on the latest information and resources.

Robert Heaton, a volunteer for Cedar City, has been involved with NAMI for many years. He and his wife, Kay, began by attending the Family-to-Family class in St. George when they were seeking support and resources for helping their son. NAMI provided information and support they weren’t able to get anywhere else.

Once the class was over, the Heatons were invited to attend the volunteer training in Salt Lake and become leaders of the class in Cedar City. They have been doing it ever since.

A lot of families feel the pressure to make everything seem ‘normal.’ This prevents them from talking about the issues or problems at hand,” Robert Heaton said. “As a result, many individuals don’t seek help until it begins affecting their lives in a major way.”

Approximately 18-20 percent of individuals within a given year struggle with mental illness, he said.

“This can include depression, bipolar, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder.”

The journey to recovery can be “long and difficult,” Wayne Connors said. “It takes a lot of support both from family and friends especially while navigating the different medications or tools available in order to find which one works best for the individual.”

NAMI offers many programs for individuals and their families that not only provide the support needed on the journey toward recovery, but also provide education and tools. All of these aspects combine to help attendees on their journey.

Read more: Mental illness, depression consistently higher in Utah; NAMI hosts free classes, support groups

One critical element that most of the participants find through these courses is understanding, Pam Connors said. While instruction, information and resources are vital to both the person struggling with mental illness and their family members, understanding is what many are seeking amidst the struggles.

Everything that is said or occurs in both classes will remain confidential, and even though information and resources will be offered, NAMI does not recommend specific medical therapies or treatment approaches.

NAMI programs

The first program is called “Bridges.” This is a 12-week educational program for individuals who are suffering from mental illness. Throughout this program, individuals are taught by those who have personally experienced the road to recovery. Individuals are given knowledge and facts about mental illnesses, the makeup of the brain and how it affects individuals. Additionally, they are given skills and tips to help them on their journey to recovery as well as provide a support group.

The second program is called “Family-to-Family.” This 12-week program is for family members and friends of individuals who are affected by mental illness. This program helps family members and friends learn more about mental illnesses and how it affects their loved ones. Family members learn how to maintain their own well-being as well as the well-being for their loved one.

The third program is called “Peer-to-Peer.” This program is for individuals who want to better understand their condition and their journey towards recovery. It creates an opportunity for shared experiences in a confidential matter in a nonjudgmental environment.

Each class is free and comes with presentations, workbooks and lectures. Although it is recommended that individuals begin at the beginning of the program, individuals are not turned away if they need help.

In addition to the weekly classes, the Washington County group also offers monthly support groups for both the Peer-to-Peer and Family-to-Family class members.

Iron County:

Family-to-Family and Bridges take place on Thursdays at 7 p.m. at the Southwest Behavioral Health Center, 245 E. 680 South, Cedar City. For more information on when the programs begin or if you have any questions about the program, call Robert Heaton at telephone 435-590-7749, Kay at 435-559-2145 or Rosie at 435-590-0880.

Washington County:

The Family-to-Family and Peer-to-Peer classes take place on Thursdays at 5:45 p.m. at the St. George branch of the Washington County Library, 88 W. 100 South, St. George. The Family-to-Family Support Group is every first Tuesday of the month at 5:45 p.m. while the Peer-to-Peer Support Group is every first Thursday of the month at 5:45 p.m. at the St. George library. For more information, call Pam Connor at telephone 541-331-0711.

Written by HEIDI BAXLEY, Iron County Prevention Coalition coordinator, and LAUREN MCAFEE, Cedar City Library in the Park grant and development officer.

About the “Mind Matters” Series

As the Mind Matters series continues, we will highlight several Southern Utah mental health providers and organizations, as well as success stories, but if you or someone you know is seeking help or resources now, go to the following websites:

If you or someone you know needs helps immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911. There is help and hope available.

St. George News “Mind Matters” series aims to illuminate how mental illnesses affect society and how to maintain mental health. Articles are contributed by Cedar City Library in the Park in partnership with the Iron County Prevention Coalition and will highlight available resources people may access in Southern Utah and online.

Read more: All the articles in the Mind Matters series

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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