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.