By Sara Wesser
Like many involved with NAMI, I first learned about the organization by taking one of several signature education programs after a family member was diagnosed with a mental illness. I found that the Family-to-Family class offered a perfect setting in which to learn, along with others who were having similar experiences, more about mental illness and the skills I needed to better cope. I continued to benefit by participating in NAMI support groups as well.
Others learn about NAMI from presentations we give in classrooms or other venues. Still others learn about us from materials we post in hospitals, providers’ offices, schools, and various public places. However we learned about NAMI, we have all found it can play an important role in our lives as we make our way along the road to wellness, and we want to offer that to others.
As I became more familiar with the range of programs available, I found myself wondering how the life of a different family member might have been improved had any of us known about NAMI earlier. That person experienced a cycle of crisis and often hospitalization every few years and had difficulty managing her illness over time.
Perhaps the support group for those living with mental illness would have given her some much-needed help along the way. Maybe she could have developed additional skills to manage her illness had she been able to take the Peer-to-Peer class. She might even have experienced fewer crises had she participated in NAMI classes and support groups. I can only wonder now.
I do know that NAMI’s education, support, and advocacy fill a crucial niche between crisis and stability for many people. These programs are especially relevant because they are developed by and for those whose lives have been affected by mental illness. We’ve been there and are glad to share what we know.