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Program helps families dealing with mental illness

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five U.S. adults will experience mental illness at some point in their life, affecting not only their wellbeing but also impacting their family. Because of this, it’s imperative that those close to adults living with a mental health condition are able to understand and support them.

An upcoming 12-session education program hosted by NAMI Stanislaus will help family, partners, friends and significant others of mentally ill adults do just that, providing information on illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and other mental health conditions.

“A course like this is important because it seems like a majority of people do not understand that when their loved ones are living with a mental health condition, they’re not just exhibiting bad behavior — the mental health condition is where that’s coming from,” Darlene Thomas of NAMI Stanislaus said. “Once they understand that, they tend to have more empathy.”

The 12-week NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program will start in Turlock on April 20. The evening classes have been described as “life-changing” by families who have benefitted from the program and each lesson is taught by trained teachers who know what it’s like to have a loved one living with a mental health condition.

“Families come into the class on the first night overwhelmed, devastated and feeling hopeless. They don’t know what to do anymore,” Thomas said. “It’s kind of like a rosebud. Each week, they start learning and understanding more and it’s like a bud that starts opening up. By the end of classes, a majority of people become a rose.”

During the Family-to-Family Education Program, participants will learn about emotional reactions to the trauma of mental illness and be able to have their questions answered by experts. A majority of major mental health conditions will be discussed throughout the program, including misunderstood illnesses like different mood disorders, dual diagnoses, psychotic illnesses and other brain disorders.

Participants will also learn about the basics of the brain, medication, how to problem solve and communicate with their family member, and even the potential for recovery.

These different lessons will give families coping mechanisms and a better understanding of their loved ones with mental health conditions, Thomas said, which often have devastating effects on the family unit.

“(Mental illness) tends to tear the families apart…often you see siblings who won’t have anything to do with that person anymore because of the illness,” Thomas said. “It just becomes so painful because there’s not a magic wand you can wave to make it go away.”

The upcoming educational program can help, however, as shown by a participant perspective provided by NAMI Stanislaus.

“The course has helped me to realize that my son is still inside the body that is often times hidden by a mental health condition and that I am not alone in this,” the perspective reads.

NAMI’s goal is to not only give families the tools they need to deal with mental health conditions, but also to battle the stigma that surrounds mental illness. In addition to community workshops like the Family-to-Family program, NAMI also speaks with local high school students and businesses about mental health and the importance of speaking up, identifying symptoms and seeking treatment.

Thanks in part to this outreach, Thomas believes the conversation surrounding mental health has improved in recent years.

“There’s so much negative stigma around mental health and the more people come to understand, I think the more they’re willing to get out there and do what they can to support those dealing with mental illness,” she said. “Now, people are talking about it more and it’s become acceptable to do that.”

The 12-week NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program will begin in Turlock on April 20. For more information and to register, contact Thomas at 209-656-8855 or by email at For more information about NAMI Stanislaus and support for mental illness, visit