Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Study on Family-to-Family: It’s All about People

By Michael Fitzpatrick, NAMI Executive Director

NAMI has long been proud of its Family-to-Family program, our free, 12-week self-help course in which trained volunteers who have family members living with mental illness teach coping skills to others. We now have a new reason to be proud.

A landmark study published in the current issue of Psychiatric Services, a journal of the American Psychiatric Association, has found that the program “significantly” improves coping and problem-solving abilities of family members. It offers “concrete practical benefits” and serves as a valuable “complement” to professional care.

Doctors and other mental health care workers are often unable to provide enough support to family members, even though families often play a critical role in treatment and recovery.

This recognition coincides with the 20th anniversary of Family-to-Family. To date, an estimated 250,000 people have taken the classes. Over 3,500 volunteers now teach the course.

NAMI is grateful to all the volunteers who are the heart and soul of the program. We can’t name them all here, but their work is often recognized both nationally and locally.

Last year WYFF-TV (Channel 4) in Greenville, S.C., reported: "When local families can't get the help they need, many turn to NAMI.”

Next week, KMGH-TV (Channel 7) in Denver will honor Pam Haynes, a NAMI Family-to-Family coordinator and instructor, as one of its weekly “Everyday Heroes.” Another Family-to Family instructor was the late Bebe Moore Campbell in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s greatest African American novelists. In 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives named July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in her honor.

Even more gratifying are letters NAMI receives from people who have taken our classes.

When actress Glenn Close launched the Bring Change 2 Mind campaign, her sister Jesse, who lives with bipolar disorder and has a son with schizophrenia, wrote: “NAMI helped us as a family.” This year, Jessie will address NAMI's annual convention in Chicago, July 6-9, where the new study will also be presented. Finally, one Florida mother wrote this week: “When I began the Family-to-Family program, I was still shell-shocked…Mental illness was an unknown, unthinkable and unwanted commodity for our family.”

She wanted her son back.

“What I got instead,” she wrote “can best be told in my son’s words from a letter slid under my bedroom door.”

“Mom, since you graduated from the NAMI program, I’m a lot happier because you’re happier…I’ve always known you loved me ‘just the way’ I am,’ as you always say, but now I think I can love me just the way I am.”

Thank you to all NAMI volunteers working in all our programs who help make NAMI great.


Sarah said...

I am forever grateful for NAMI. My Dad was schizophrenic, my brother is, and I have a son who is. I am the first generation to not deny it and accept my son with an open loving heart. I like to say he is "differently abled" than disabled. The journey has been long and challenging but my son is now in recovery and has completed the NAMI peer to peer education class. Go NAMIGO! A huge thanks to Donna and Sally (my teachers). I will have both of you in my thoughts and prayers forever.

Ralph M. Bach said...

My wife and son have OCD, and because I wasn't exposed to mental illness growing up, it was very difficult for me to cope with those issues. The Family-To-Family course was extremely helpful to me, by understanding the intricacies of this disease. Now I'm planning to become an instructor, and devote my life to working with (Ohio) NAMI in order to help other families.


Yes we are all real people. My uncle was schizophrenic and I have a son who is. He is progressing wonderfully because of our knowledge and our caring for him as a person. We learned so much in F2F and appreciate it so much.

Richie said...

My son, age 23, was recently diagnosed as bi-polar. The family is in shock and grief over this. We need support and information about how to cope with this. How do you sign up to be a part of Family-to Family? Please, please, please advise.

zannelaw said...

It is very true that families are often the gateway from patient to medical professional that is not always taken advantage of. Family to Family teaches families that it is OK and appropriate for them to be involved in the care of their loved one! It gives them some empowerment and I think is educating the medical community as well.

Panic Attack said...

This statement, "I’m a lot happier because you’re happier…I’ve always known you loved me ‘just the way’ I am,’ as you always say, but now I think I can love me just the way I am." is so touching. It shows that these kind of programs really do make a difference in the way a family relates with each other. The bond that is strengthened by NAMI is one which brings assurance.

Anonymous said...

What wonderful stories! I wonder what the advise would be for those of us living with mental illness and who have no family or friends on whom to count for support. Are there "adoptive" families? Though I am not sharing anything new, it is important to speak out for those of us who are alone. As encouraging as these stories are, they thrust the stark reality of my mental illness and my struggles to cope with it alone.

Jeannie said...

I have the same challenge as Anonymous; my family and friends understand I have a problem with major depression and severe at times but, don't undersand, and prefer to "baby" me through it. I would like to know what I should do to help them understand. Oft times they think I am angry with them when I just need space and solitude.

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