One in four adults, or approximately 61.5 million Americans, have an experience with mental illness in a given year. This statistic is hardly staggering or shocking to National Alliance of Mental Illness volunteers and group facilitators Allison Clark, Judy Kropp or Joyce Hickman. The three-woman team offers an abundance of both knowledge and passion for a resource they find not only valuable but life changing.
NAMI cites itself as the “largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. Members of NAMI are families, friends and people living with mental illness such as major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder.”
Both Kropp and Hickman bring personal experience to the table as mothers of children with mental illness, as well as other family connections.
”My son thought that he was going to die and he was talking suicide,” Hickman said of her son’s early detection at the age of 20. “So, I looked in the Bible. I didn’t find anything on suicide. So, I went to the pastor of our church and they had a flier for NAMI. Two weeks after his crisis, I’m in NAMI.”
“We’re always outreaching if we can,” Kropp said of the group and its members, recognizing its need for a larger presence in local churches and high schools.
"In the last 10 years, we started a lot of school programs," said Lynn Padlo, NAMI Stanislaus education director.
Kropp currently addresses groups at high school and college campuses in the Modesto and Valley areas.
“One of the statistics that is really good to tell is that three-quarters of people that develop a mental illness start between 15 and 25,” Hickman said.
NAMI has outreach programs specifically designed for students, parents and teachers:
· Ending the Silence aims to raise awareness and change perceptions around mental illness through a 50-minute classroom presentation. Along with sharing facts and statistics about mental illness, a young adult living with mental illness and a family member share their own experiences.
· Parents and Teachers As Allies aims to empower teachers and school personnel to make a difference in the lives of their students. The program teaches how to understand the difference between bad behavior and symptoms of a mental illness and how to communicate with families effectively.
· In Our Own Voice aims to change attitudes, assumptions and stereotypes about mental illness. The presentation provides an introductory understanding of mental illness, along with a first-hand account of what it's like to live with a mental illness.
NAMI also offers a variety of weekly support groups, as well as recurring classes, all which are free to the community.
“Don’t be afraid,” Clark said of her hope for those in need of the assistance.
Clark speaks from both personal experience as a person who lives with mental illness, as well as family members who have been challenged by it.
“Don’t let the stigma keep you away,” she continued. “For consumers (i.e.: clients), are usually in crisis mode. They’re having trouble with their illness. Having problems socializing. Having problems within themselves. They’re just floundering out there. It’s a place for them to come.”
A connection support group for individuals with mental illness to come together and learn from their experiences, help others and gain strength, will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 640 Minaret St., in Turlock. It is a non-sectarian group taught by two individuals with lived experience with mental illness but are in recovery.
Family to Family is a 12-week educational course for family, significant others and friends of people living with mental illness. The next Turlock course will be held in August. Peer to Peer is a 10-week education course for those living with a mental illness. The next Turlock course will be held in September. To register for one of these free courses, or for more information on courses being offered in other areas of Stanislaus County, call 558-4555.
— Kristina Hacker contributed to this report.