Fear, anger, loneliness and confusion are all emotions often associated with people with mental illness. But those emotions can run just as strongly in loved ones and caregivers.
An educational course beginning next week aims to give family members the tools and support to cope with the challenges of caring for those with mental illness. The free course, called Family-to-Family, is sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Cape Cod and will be held in Vineyard Haven.
The course will be taught by two volunteers who have already gone through the course. One of the Vineyard teachers, Daryl Knight, said the course provided her with a sense of acceptance, support and knowing she was not alone.
“It’s not therapy class, it’s educational and for support,” Mrs. Knight said yesterday. “The two comments I’ve heard most are, why didn’t someone tell me about this a long time ago, and when I’m here I feel like I’m normal and can relax.”
The class will be held once a week for 12 weeks, each one lasting for two and a half hours. Pre-registration is required. Confidentiality is strictly adhered to.
Class topics include psychotic illnesses, mood disorders, basics about the brain, medication review, communication skills, self-care, recovery, advocacy, coping skills, and crisis and relapse management. The class is capped at 25, but as of Thursday, there was plenty of availability. Weekly participation is encouraged.
The more participants, the more helpful it can be for everyone involved, Mrs. Knight said.
“Everybody has different experiences and brings the gift of their own experience and knowledge,” she said. “In any situation where there’s something that really effects people deeply, people connect with other people . . . and a trust builds up.”
NAMI estimates about 15,000 people on Cape Cod and the Islands suffer from a serious mental illness, including clinical depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ronald Holmes, executive director for NAMI Cape Cod, said that number is increasing. This is the fifth year the alliance has offered a Vineyard program.
“The course is intended to educate a family member about mental illness and help them help their loved one with the illness,” he said. “Especially with a person with an illness who is in the household — this is a daily task . . . Sometimes they’re not in the same household but you have to deal with it on an ongoing basis.” Like Mrs. Knight, Mr. Holmes said one of the benefits of the course is the sharing of stories. “So many people think they’re alone in this journey and they’re not,” he said. “It’s helpful for them to be in a room with other people going through the same thing, understanding other people are dealing with it, and try something they can pick up on. There’s a real bonding that takes place amongst participants.”
NAMI Cape Cod and the Islands is expanding programs and services throughout the region, Mr. Holmes said. Mr. Holmes said part of the alliance’s 2013 mission is to reach out to parents of school-aged children to address mental illness at a younger age.
“We think we can do a better job of raising that awareness of making more people understand mental illness better,” he said. “Education leads to better understanding and less stigma.”
Family-to-Family begins weekly sessions for 12 weeks on Jan. 9 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, on the course and to register, call Daryl Knight at 508-627-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org