Monday, December 30, 2013

Finding Hope and Helping Others

By Devin Black

Stigma and the fear of not being ‘normal’ was enough to keep me from getting treatment for a debilitating mental and physical illness for 23 years. Elementary school, middle, high school and college were a constant struggle. Academia was my enemy and I could never catch a break. I hated learning and being taught, because I couldn’t learn. You grow up accepting that this must be how life is and drag your way through it, mind wandering, tired, confused, and all. That is until I drastically changed my lifestyle, and my new life changed me.

A year and a half ago, I moved to California from South Carolina to live with my fiancé. The amount of changes was incredibly stressful and was a very sad and scary time for me. My saving grace was getting a job as a substance abuse counselor. My only problem was I had absolutely no previous knowledge of drugs, substance abuse or addiction. I figured out quickly I was going to need to teach myself, and learn this stuff quickly. I began spending every day after work learning more and more about substance abuse, the neuroscience of addiction, and the psychological and sociological aspects of addiction. I was in the ongoing process of an incredible discovery that there is SO much more to addiction than what is taught in our society.

This inspired me to continue learning and educating myself, and the more I did, the more fascinated I became. This was my first introduction to the power and beauty of self-education. The relationship I moved to California for was extremely rocky and eventually I also learned that my fiancé was living with bipolar disorder, and two personality disorders. I was someone who didn’t understand mental illness, and it left me often wondering, why does he act the way he does? But I wasn’t completely free from any behavioral and emotional issues either.

My fiancé took notice of some of my own problems of extreme inattentiveness, the wandering of my mind in the middle of a conversation, uncontrollable impulsivity, continued distraction, and likely, he also thought to himself: “why does she act the way she does?” My fiancé was the first person to bravely stand up and say, “Hey, I have a mental illness. I take medication, I go to therapy, but it doesn’t mean I’m crazy or I can’t accomplish many things.” He convinced me that seeing a therapist or psychiatrist was actually ok and didn’t have to mean I was crazy, lazy or stupid. For me, all it took was that one person to show acceptance and support, and I took that first step of getting diagnosed.

I was diagnosed with ADD-Inattentive type in that first visit and was given a prescription medication. The next day I took my first dose and instantly felt a feeling I never felt before. I felt awake, alert, clear headed, and I felt good! I felt this huge relief from realizing, oh, so this is why I’ve had so much trouble throughout my life.” I was both relieved but also saddened that it took me this long to find why I’ve been having difficulties all this time.

Now that I have the tools to treat my mental illness I can get through the rest of my life with understanding and acceptance and take as many necessary steps to fight a battle I do not have to lose. But I also must let myself grieve for the pain and suffering my mental illness has put me through. But more so, I must also grieve for the pain and damage the stigma has caused me.

Volunteering with NAMI was a chance for me to get involved and help other people living with a mental illness. Mental illness is something I am both intellectually interested in, but also have a personal connection to. Having ADD made academics and education terrifying. It wasn’t until learning became a true necessity that it also became a profound interest. By participating in NAMI Ending the Silence, I get a chance to teach younger people about my illness, and story of recovery. It only took one person to normalize a very misunderstood health issue and be supportive for me to feel confident enough to seek treatment. I am passionate about the education of mental illness, and believe in striking up a conversation so others can also get help and no longer have to hurt.

By presenting and teaching the facts about mental illness to others, it provides an opportunity to learn. When people learn about a topic, they gain understanding. A better understanding of mental illness will lead to having more conversation and conversation reduces uncertainty and ignorance. By reducing ignorance, we’re opening minds and stomping out stigma. This promotes more sympathy, compassion, love and acceptance and what harm can come from that? Certainly only good can come from opening minds and opening hearts.

 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Making Better Mental Health Treatment a National Priority

By Ron Honberg, NAMI Director of Policy and Legal Affairs

Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of participating in a small, two-hour meeting with Vice President Joe Biden at the White House. The stimulus for the meeting was a sad one: the one year commemoration of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The meeting was attended by a small group of parents and surviving family members of victims of the tragedy.

Although it is a heady feeling to meet with the Vice President, this was one meeting I wish there was no need for. The Sandy Hook tragedy focused attention on the nation’s broken mental health system and fostered a national dialogue that continues through today. The focus has had an impact in many states. As documented in NAMI’s recently released state legislative report , a majority of states increased funding for public mental health services in 2013, after years of budget cutting.  

Sadly, the impact at the federal level has been less dramatic. Despite lots of rhetoric, the U.S. Congress to date has passed virtually no legislation to address the crisis in the mental health system. At the meeting, Vice President Biden announced that the Administration was doing what it could, specifically releasing $100 million in discretionary funds to be split equally among improving capacity to provide mental health services in Federally Qualified Health Centers and in beefing up mental health services in rural communities. While these measures will not solve the crisis, they are steps in the right direction.

I came away from the meeting with the Vice President with two enduring impressions. First, I am amazed and awestruck by the families of Sandy Hook victims who have somehow managed to translate unspeakable grief and sadness into positive acts, including raising funds for more mental health services in schools, developing programs to support other families who experience tragedies, and advocating for funding for research to better understand the workings of the brain. In the meeting with the families, Vice President Biden noted how profoundly difficult it was for him to speak publicly after the tragic death of his wife and daughter in an auto accident many years ago, telling the families how inspired he is by the work they have done to honor their lost family members.  

My second enduring impression concerns the Vice President himself, who has clearly spent much time in the last year learning as much as he can about the mental health system in America. In a far ranging and rich conversation, Mr. Biden led the group in exploring what can be done to prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook and others that have taken place. He remarked that serious mental illness remains in the shadows of American society and that the barriers imposed by societal ignorance about these disorders discourages individuals and families from seeking help and support when they most need it. He is particularly concerned about early identification and intervention during those critical years when symptoms first emerge. As many NAMI members know too well, there are no easy solutions, particularly in a society that still tends to shun those manifesting severe psychiatric symptoms. Nevertheless, it is encouraging that there appears to be sincere interest on the part of the White House in finding solutions.

The costs of untreated mental illness in America are staggering. Many of these costs are incurred by criminal justice systems, emergency rooms, and other systems left to respond to those who have fallen through the cracks of a failed mental health system. It would not be a stretch to declare untreated mental illness as the number one health crisis facing America today, yet I am hard pressed to think of politicians who have run for office on a platform to improve services for people affected by mental illness. In a sad, perverse sort of way, the Sandy Hook tragedy may serve as a turning point. It is high time to make better treatment of mental illness a national priority.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

NAMI Looks Ahead to 35 Years in 2014

By Courtney Reyers, NAMI Director of Publishing

Next year marks NAMI’s 35th anniversary. Recent years have seen landmark changes in health care reform, something NAMI has steadfastly worked toward throughout its history.

In 2013, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid expansion—which are still underway— were important steps forward for individuals and families affected by mental illness. But there are many more areas of growth and success that can be noted as we step into 2014.

NAMI’s signature education program, NAMI Family-to-Family, was officially declared an evidence-based practice this year, putting a seal of approval on what tens of thousands of families already knew: F2F really helps in learning to understand and cope with mental illness. NAMI also offers other education and support programs; the newest ones are NAMI Ending the Silence and NAMI Homefront, both launched since Nov. 20.

Another area of tremendous growth has been NAMI On Campus. Onset of mental illness often occurs in a person’s teens or twenties. Early intervention requires education and awareness as well as communities with resources to provide support to young people in need.

Throughout 2013, NAMI also has been engaged in the National Dialogue on Mental Health that flowed from the Sandy Hook tragedy approximately a year ago. It has included fighting for a broad agenda of initiatives. It also has included efforts to eliminate stigma and building new partnerships.

One outlet that fosters a great sense of community and inspires hope is NAMI’s story-sharing hub, You Are Not Alone. NAMI members and friends tell us regularly that the personal stories they read submitted by others who have experienced mental illness have helped them immensely. (Please feel free to share your own story if you would like!).

NAMI also offers a national, toll-free HelpLine, 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264) which fields more than 2,000 calls and sends out more than 100 packets of information and brochures each month. It is a critical service, staffed by trained volunteers, for individuals and families seeking information about mental illness and the mental health care system.

NAMI works every day to save lives. From battling stigma to addressing cultural disparities to reaching out to youth and advocating with policymakers, NAMI is there, fighting for and alongside the millions of Americans who face mental illness in their daily lives.

For all the progress made in 2013, we know the fight will continue. We also know we depend on the support of NAMI members, friends and readers to sustain our work. Thank you for your continued help. We look forward to working with you throughout the New Year, as part of a community dedicated to hope and recovery.

Monday, December 23, 2013

NAMI Homefront Helps Educate Military Families and Veterans

By Suzanne Robinson, MSW, Senior Education Program Manager
NAMI Family-to-Family and NAMI Homefront

NAMI has launched a new education program called NAMI Homefront, a six-session adaptation of the evidence-based NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program. This free program will focus on the unique needs of families of Military Service Members and Veterans who are living with mental illness and often face post-deployment or post-discharge challenges.

Why now?

A recent study found that nearly one in five of the men and women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2004 live with severe depression or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and have experienced more traumatic brain injuries than in any previous military campaign. Those returning with devastating injuries face living with both physical and psychological pain. Tragically, since the beginning of the invasion of Afghanistan, more Service Members have died as a result of suicide than combat. A diagnosis of mental illness results in immediate separation or discharge from active duty, which may explain why only half of all service personnel affected by the symptoms of mental illness seek treatment.

Other Veterans face invisible wounds related to PTSD which limit daily functioning despite appearing able-bodied to society. Some Veterans have difficulty adjusting to separation from the military and loss of their connection to a unit or status as part of an elite team with specialized skills; they may face unemployment due to expertise that may not easily translate to civilian settings.

This has an impact on families, often leaving them confused, angry and lost in trying to help a loved one. Families sacrifice cohesion, communication and daily interaction during deployments. Less than two percent of the general population serves in the military so there is a sense of isolation among Military Service Members and Veteran families because others cannot relate to their experiences. Fear for the safety of the deployed strains families and some relationships do not survive multiple deployments.

Why NAMI?

NAMI has chosen to provide education, support and encouragement to the families of Service Members and Veterans because of the growing need that is the result of recent wars. Other families also confront symptoms of mental illness and the challenge of navigating mental health care systems, but the circumstances of Service Members and Veterans are often unique. NAMI is well-situated to provide a connection between family members and community resources.

NAMI has a history of partnership and collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). NAMI Family-to-Family classes have been taught in VA hospitals and clinics throughout the country since the late 1990s. Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) between NAMI and the VA were signed in 2008 and 2010 to offer NAMI Family-to-Family in VA facilities. Since the first MOU in 2008 the course has been presented 189 times in 114 different VA facilities in 49 states and the District of Columbia with great success.

“You realize that he will never be the same having been through war. I learned how to treat him more as an adult than as a hurt child.” —Mother of a Veteran in Ohio after graduating from a NAMI Family-to-Family VA class

NAMI Homefront will address the very specialized needs of Service Member and Veteran Families. NAMI has established an expert advisory group comprised of Veterans, family members, the VA, the Department of Defense, the Rand Corporation and the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving to help guide the program.

In early 2014, the first round of NAMI Homefront classes will be taught in six states that are piloting the program (Illinois, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and South Carolina). Instructors will be drawn from NAMI Affiliates with experience teaching NAMI Family-to-Family at VA sites, along with family members of Service Members and Veterans. A free online course will be offered later in the year. NAMI Homefront will be available across the nation by the summer of 2014. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

NAMI’s Newtown Prayer: Share Reflections on Dec. 14

By Bob Carolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations

Much has happened this week as the one-year anniversary of the tragedy that occurred Dec. 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The White House held a meeting with the families of the children and teachers who died. Vice President Joe Biden announced a $100 million increase in federal funding for the mental health care system. News media were in overdrive putting developments over the past year in perspective. To a significant degree, they relied on NAMI’s State Legislation Report, 2013 including a major story in USA Today and an interview on Washington Post TV

Policies, laws, systems, money, politics and media interviews seem inappropriate, however, for the actual anniversary date. One major news story in fact has been that most news media will stay out of Newtown this weekend at the request of the families. The weekend should be a time for quiet reflection and spiritual renewal.

Many people may participate in special candlelight vigils or offer prayers in regular religious services to observe other anniversary. NAMI members will be sharing their own special prayer, which we encourage everyone to share:

Please remember the children and teachers of Newtown, Conn. who died one year ago.

Remember the mother and troubled son who also died.

Remember all who have died or been affected by tragedies, whatever the cause, at home or abroad.

Remember also individuals and families affected by mental illness, who often need help but cannot get it.

Please give us the power to continue the past year’s national dialogue on mental health and find better ways to help people sooner rather than later.

Please grant us all peace, hope and renewal throughout the holiday season ad in the new year to come.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The New Healthcare.gov is Starting to See Results

By Jessica Hart, NAMI State Advocacy Manager

The Healthcare.gov rollout has been a rocky process. But the healthcare reform law has the potential to increase access to insurance for millions of people living with mental illness. Thanks to the included parity provisions, an estimated 62 million Americans will now receive coverage for mental illness at a level equal to medical and surgical benefits. 

Although many people have experienced problems signing up online, numerous others have been successful in signing up for coverage using Healthcare.gov. Last week over a three-day period, more than 56,000 people enrolled, which is more than double the amount that enrolled during the month of October.

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that nearly 1.2 million people are on track to receive health coverage next year; nearly 365,000 Americans have selected a plan in the Health Insurance Marketplace and more than 800,000 Americans were determined eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

If you have had difficulties applying through healthcare.gov, NAMI’s best recommendation is to try again now.  Apply on or before Dec. 23, 2013 in order to begin receiving coverage on Jan. 1, 2014. There are four different routes to find coverage: through the phone, online, in-person or by mail. Specific information about how to sign up through these different routes is listed below.

Should I apply for insurance on Healthcare.gov?

If you or a family member has private coverage with the benefits you need and affordable out-of-pocket costs, or if you have Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE or VA benefits, you don’t have to shop for a new plan.

You should apply if you have no health insurance or if your health plan does not cover your physical or mental health needs. You should also consider applying if the cost of your monthly premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs have negatively affected your ability to receive the care you need.

How do I apply?

You can apply for health coverage from any state by going to Healthcare.gov. If you have questions or need assistance in applying you can get 24/7 help by telephone, live chat or face-to-face in your community.

Call Center

  • 1 (800) 318-2596 (TTY/TDD 1 (855) 889-4325).
  • Available 24/7.
  • Help is offered in more than 150 languages.

Live Chat

  • Use the live chat options to ask questions from a health care expert.
  • Available 24/7.

In-person

By Mail

  • You can download and print the application and instructions from healthcare.gov, or you may be able to pick them up at your local health department, community clinic or mental health center.

To find out more about how the health care law affects people living with mental illness and their families, check out www.nami.org/healthcoverage.