’Family to Family’ helps families deal with mental illness

Trained volunteers who have life experience with a family member with a mental illness are available to teach "Family to Family" classes through the Humboldt Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The next series of classes begins in February.

Mental health officials say it is estimated 40 million Americans experience some sort of mental illness and many never receive the services or treatment they need. NAMI Humboldt has been helping families through its "Family to Family" classes for the past 12 years.

"These classes are vital to the community and to Humboldt County mental health," said Asha George, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Mental Health director. "Through education and support, family members learn how to support their loved one and find the most appropriate support and services for them."

The 12-week classes focus on learning the stages of emotional response, setting goals for family members and providing information about resources and empathy. Family members are also taught about effective communication skills, stigma and the role of advocacy.

"The course dwells on the emotional responses families have to the trauma of mental illness," said Lea Nagy, NAMI member and family liaison at DHHS Mental Health. "Many family members describe their experience in the program as life-changing."

Nagy says current information about schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and addictive disorders are also discussed. Information about medications, side effects and strategies to adhere to medications are presented.

Nagy says once family members finish the classes, they become resources to others in the community and can be supportive to their family members so they can live independently.

Two individuals teach the classes. Each of them has family members with a serious mental illness.

"Students generally emerge grateful for the feelings of understanding, empowerment and hope which the educational lessons develop," said Sharon Benda, one of the instructors. "Students find the support and friendly rapport with the group that helps them with their family member."

The course was first offered in Humboldt County in 2001. It is estimated 250 residents have taken the classes. It is free to family members and class sizes are limited to 25 people.

Classes are held at the DHHS Professional Building, 507 F St. in Eureka. The next class starts Feb. 2, and will be from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Simeon and Marcia Tauber will be teaching the next series of classes. They can be reached at 825-9221 or 825-7100 or at Marcia@simplymacintosh.com, or visit the NAMI website, http://nami-humboldt.org.