Giving voice to coping with mental illness

Published 12:04 pm Saturday, October 2, 2010

To the Editor:

Once in a great while you receive an extraordinary thank-you, one that is either very poignant or heartfelt or both.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness Western Tidewater Board of Directors received just such a thank-you from someone that our group recently helped weather a financial emergency. The letter was published anonymously under “Your Turn” (“Mental health client says ‘thanks’ to support group”) on Wednesday, Sept. 22.

We felt that this letter deserved a wider audience because it is representative of so many things that we encounter and work for at NAMI. It illustrates the precarious nature of living with a mental illness and trying to hold body and soul together.

The difficulties the writer encountered are typical of the many barriers that people with mental illness face daily in getting access to consistent treatment under our current system of care. Forced by Medicare price changes to switch medications, he experienced an exacerbation of his illness that landed him in the hospital for a few days.

Between additional income from extra work hours and funds provided by NAMI Western Tidewater’s Consumer Fund, he was able to go back to the medication that worked.

Unfortunately, limited room dictated cutting a part of the letter that shows a person who is cognizant of his illness, a self-knowledge that is vital to living successfully with mental illness.

He had formed a successful working partnership with his therapist and psychiatrist, one that had helped him avoid becoming suicidal for two years and counting — a milestone for him.

Tools promoting such self-knowledge and understanding of one’s mental illness as well as strategies for maintaining wellness are provided in our Peer-to-Peer Education Program.

Our Family-to-Family Education Program promotes the stability of the person with mental illness in a different way. The class offers family members the knowledge, confidence and tools they need to best support their loved one while taking care of themselves.

According to research, people with mental illness spend less time in the hospital when their families are educated about mental illness — not because family members have been doing things “wrong,” but because in programs like Family-to-Family, they learn things they wouldn’t otherwise have had a chance to know.

As we say in Family-to-Family, “You can’t know what no one has told you!”

The next Family-to-Family Education Program begins on Monday, Oct. 11, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at High Street United Methodist Church in Franklin. The class is free, but space is limited and advance registration is required.

Call Rebecca Butler at 562-4977, Vivian Stevens-Lyons at 440-7088 or me at 562-2988.

Carol Evans
NAMI Western Tidewater