Several years ago, I attended NAMI’s (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Family-to-Family course uncertain of what to expect. I had stumbled onto a quick blurb in the newspaper about the increasing prevalence of mental illness and the damaging impact it had on the family members who were burdened with the constant care for their mentally ill loved ones. Wanting to learn as much as I could, I signed up for the classes and subsequently came away from the 12-week course with a much greater awareness of the far-reaching implications of these debilitating afflictions. It wasn’t so much the scientific knowledge regarding the brain itself, or the explanations of why so many ill individuals act as they do, or even the numerous helpful coping mechanisms for caregivers that made such an impact on me. Rather it was the recognition and understanding and enlightenment of how many lives can be destroyed by dealing inappropriately with a mentally ill family member or close friend. It was heart wrenching to hear so many tragic stories of self-destruction caused by misinformation and simple ignorance.
I’d be willing to bet that everyone knows someone who has at one time suffered from depression, or bipolar disorder, or some other type of borderline personality affliction. We can all recount memories of Aunt Agnes and her “spells” or Uncle Larry “having a bad day”. There’s certainly not the stigma there once was but open acknowledgement of these conditions still presents formidable challenges in today’s society. Many of our laws are outdated and much legislative advocacy is still needed. When we see people we love struggling with mental illness, imprisoned in their own minds, unable to care for themselves, we can’t help but ask ourselves “How can I help?”
For that reason, I along with 8 other eager and enthusiastic individuals gathered together in Louisville this past weekend to become certified teachers of NAMI’s potentially life-altering program. We were made aware of the newest developments in the area of diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders and equipped with techniques to successfully convey this information to prospective family members dealing with unimaginable pain and hurt. We discovered that the one single element that unites us as families is our emotional experience of a devastating loss.
The reality is that mental illness sucks. It’s very real and relentless and perpetually lurking. I often wish it would all just magically disappear. My hope and prayer is that through leading these classes, I’ll somehow be empowering those family members affected to take back their lives again, to maintain some semblance of hope amidst a sea of heartache and despair. I invite you to join me. I’ll see you in an upcoming class.