Debbie Callahan remembers what it was like to attend her first meeting of a family support group hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She was a little hesitant at first, and wasn’t sure that the group could help. She said that’s how most people feel when they first reach out for support when caring for a loved one with a mental illness. “They really think ‘there is no way anyone else could be going through what I’m going through. It can’t be this bad for anyone else,’” Callahan said. Thanks to NAMI, Callahan said that she has found the coping skills to deal with the mental illness of a family member. She participated in the Family to Family classes and decided to help other families by becoming a NAMI teacher. She now teaches a Family to Family class for the relatives and caregivers of people with mental illnesses. She sees these classes help other people in the same way that she has been helped. “By the time the class is over, people realized that coping with a mental illness is not so unusual and other people are going through it too,” Callahan said. The 12 week Family to Family course is free to the immediate family and caregivers of anyone with a major mental illness. The class gives caregivers the information they need to help family members with mental illnesses and also take care of themselves. They get information about major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other major mental illnesses. They also learn how to communicate with doctors and how to handle medication, among other topics. Caregivers also learn how to deal with the burnout that can come from helping a loved one with a mental illness. Participants leave with a binder of practical information and resource material. They also leave with new skills. Empathy is a skill that is stressed in Family to Family classes and participants learn to see the world how the mentally ill see it. Callahan said that one of the most interesting experiences she has had in her NAMI training and classes was an exercise that taught empathy for schizophrenics. During the lesson she had to follow a teacher’s directions and draw something on a piece of paper while the rest of the class spoke loudly, shouted and distracted her from behind. “It kind of shows you what it’s like to try and do anything when you have voices in your head,” Callahan said. In addition to coping skills, Family to Family classes give family members of mentally ill people a place to express how they really feel about the illness. This kind of connection to other caregivers is also offered at monthly support groups. The newest NAMI support group in Turlock will meet on Thursday evenings, and will serve family members and caregivers who couldn’t previously attend morning meetings. Turlock Family to Family classes start Sept. 7 and meet every Tuesday until Nov. 23. They meet from 6 p.m.to 8:30 p.m. at Turlock Regional Center, 2101 Geer Rd., Suite 120. To sign up for the classes, visit www.NAMIStanislaus.org or call 558-4555.NAMI Turlock family support groups meet the second Tuesday of every month starting 6:30 p.m. at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Turlock. There is also a morning meeting on the first Tuesday of every month from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at 2101 Geer Rd. Suite 120. For information on either group call NAMI Stanislaus at 558-4555. To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.