Coping with mental illness has family to family support

September 23, 2016

Families and care givers are making connections and learning that support and treatment options do exist to help loved ones with mental health conditions.

Through Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s Think.Change initiative, one of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ (NAMI) signature programs is available in El Paso. The program known as Family-to-Family teaches concise, empathetic communication with a family member who has a mental health condition. Participants learn how the brain and medications work and learn how to be advocates for their loved one at different levels. The goal of Think.Change is to reduce stigma and negative bias associated with mental illness. Increasing availability of NAMI’s Family-to-Family courses is a leading effort to accomplish the goal.

Nellie Mendoza, Family-to-Family Coordinator for NAMI El Paso, explains that after attending the classes, “Many of the family members see that there is hope in whatever situation they may be in at that moment in time,” said Mendoza. “There is a common ground at the end of each course, and they start seeing and saying that ‘there is hope’ and that they are ‘not alone.’”

Since the inception of the Think.Change initiative in 2013, NAMI El Paso has held 27 Family-to-Family classes. Each class has between 15 and 25 participants, with up to three different class groups going on in a single month.

The curriculum helps family members to not only learn about the myths and facts of serious and persistent mental illnesses, but also to understand how the experience of these conditions and the associated negative bias affects their relative.

“The course helps family members deal with the trauma of coping with life and family crises,” Mendoza says. “Families also learn how to reinstate their own life plan as an essential element of self-care, and take collective action to advocate for better treatment and recovery-oriented services for their loved one.”

Enrique Mata, Paso del Norte Health Foundation senior program officer and program lead for the Think.Change initiative, says the Family-to-Family program has consistently demonstrated an ability to reduce stigmas associated with mental illness. The other big success of the program, says Mata, is participants coming out of the classes advocating for the program and helping spread its messages to other families who can use the help and support.

“I have seen families and individuals face anxiety, despair, and hopelessness. I see families in shock, sidetracked by an unfair, relentless, and undiscriminating force. I also see victories, progress, and resolve,” says Mendoza. “There are so many complexities with each story. Thanks to the efforts of NAMI teachers, facilitators, presenters, and staff I see dedicated people performing extraordinary work with kindness, dedication, and compassion. El Paso is truly fortunate to have NAMI programs.”

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