NAMI offers support, peace of mind, hope

By MARTHA RASCHE
Special to The Herald

They walk in by ones and twos.

Some are quiet, noticeably sad. Some sit down with a sigh, obviously exhausted.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness came to Dubois County in summer 2014. For five years now, the monthly support group meetings of the local NAMI affiliate have drawn family members and friends of those with mental illness.

Some are at the height of crisis and at wits’ end to figure out how to deal with a loved one’s illness — an adult son with an addiction disrupting the entire household, a teen daughter cutting herself with razor blades snuck to her by friends, a lonely sibling with depression who calls and calls and calls.

Others are able to look at the worst of a loved one’s illness through the rearview mirror and attend the meetings primarily to share their experiences in an effort to help those currently living in chaos.

Counselors, pastors, teachers and others who deal with mental health needs in the course of their work also are welcome and have attended.

Some parents in the room have heard for years that they have enabled their children, or that the children are merely spoiled. Some have heard they should have picked up on a problem years before they did.

Longtime support group members assist them in sorting out the truth. And rejecting guilt.

“It’s a hard balance on how supportive you need to be, and sometimes you do need to be tough,” says Leah Hayworth, one of several NAMI-trained group facilitators for the county. She adds that when parents disagree about a child’s treatment, the meetings can help them get closer to common ground. She has noticed “the mothers get a little tougher” through the support group and “the fathers take away a more reasonable set of expectations.”

According to NAMI, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in four adults and one in 10 children.

Those at the meetings — held at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center in Jasper at 6:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month and at 11:30 a.m. on the first Friday of each month — often share effective resources they have discovered.

Some share ways they cope.

Some just share.

“It’s refreshing to talk about our stories,” says Tina Thompson, another facilitator, all of whom are volunteers and have personal experience dealing with a loved one with a mental illness. In the past, Thompson didn’t know whom she could open up to. A lot of families go through hard times, she says, but “nobody knows, and everybody keeps it quiet ... I feel like, finally, some relief, a sounding board.”

She describes the confidential support group meetings — “Keep personal stories absolutely confidential,” reads one of the group guidelines, which attendees read aloud together at the outset of each meeting — as “a lot of ‘Just hang in there’” and urges participants to ask questions.

Hayworth says regular attendees help new ones come up with goals and break how to accomplish them into baby steps.

Hayworth cautions that the group won’t fix anyone’s problems and won’t tell anyone what to do, “but we’re here to support you along the way and encourage you.” Attendees can find support in making hard decisions and sticking to them.

The focus of the meetings changes with the attendees. Near the start of each meeting, all are invited to briefly share their stories. From there, the facilitators can determine those most in need and that is where the group’s attention, experiences and expertise are directed.

Meeting topics are as numerous as mental health issues. If someone is facing it, it’s fair game for discussion. Facilitators Ronda Bailey and Ann Czerwinski join Hayworth and Thompson in listing some: Addiction as a mental illness; How stress and recreational drug use at college can combine to trigger mental illness; Caring for elderly relatives with dementia; Parenting adolescents through emotional issues; Telling the difference between a teen being a teen and a teen with a mental illness.

The facilitators keep up with news and legislative proposals involving mental health. They also are versed in how loved ones can most effectively communicate with both the ill person and his or her care providers. While the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, prevents mental health care providers from sharing information about adult patients with family members without the patient’s permission, for example, Czerwinski says care providers can and often do listen to the concerns of loved ones.

“The family are the people who know that person the most,” Hayworth says. “They need to speak up whenever they can. A lot of people don’t know they can do that.”

NAMI support group members walk into the meeting room sad, beat down, exhausted.

After talking with others who have been where they are, they often walk out with lots of notes, some peace of mind and hope.

Martha Rasche is a member of the Dubois County Public Health Partnership Mental Health Committee and the local NAMI affiliate. With funding from the health partnership, she writes about topics related to mental health. Read her blogs at TheseAreOurStories.com. Email her at mtrasche@twc.com.


NAMI in Dubois County

Call: 812-634-9343
Email: namiduboiscounty@gmail.com
Visit on Facebook: facebook.com/namiduboiscounty/
Attend a meeting at Memorial Hospital: from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month in the Mary Potter Room on the main floor; from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first Friday of each month in the conference room on the main floor


Family-to-Family

In addition to its support group meetings, NAMI in Dubois County periodically offers a Family-to-Family program. The program will be offered this fall if at least 10 people register.

The 11 weekly classes are structured to help family members understand and support their mentally ill relative while maintaining their own well-being. Family members learn how to talk with doctors to get the most benefit for the patient, how to communicate with the ill family member in nonconfrontational ways and how to take care of themselves during the process.

There is no charge for classes or materials.

The sessions are led by volunteer, certified Family-to-Family instructors.

To learn more about the program, or to register, call 812-634-9343 or send an email to namiduboiscounty@gmail.com.




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