NAMI family to family program sees more people seeking mental health help

Published: Jan. 6, 2020 at 5:23 PM CST
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Oline Stigers says it wasn’t until her son turned 42, that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

"He did real well for a number of years and then the wheels kind of came off the bus," Stigers said. "We just needed some more help some support because there is a lot of understanding that we really don't have about mental illness, until it comes knocking at your door."

That's what brought her in to take one of NAMI's family to family classes a couple of years ago. It's for family members of loved ones with complex mental health needs.

"It was a godsend to us," Stigers said.

Stigers said the biggest thing she took from it is knowing she wasn't alone.

"It was like you had an instant group of family members that were supporting you," she said.

Stigers will now be one of the teachers for the 12-week course that begins this week in Linn County.

"The class teaches about mental illness, medication, communication techniques, we even have an exercise in one of the classes where we attempt to simulate what it's like for a person with Schizophrenia," Kurt Rogahn, NAMI’s Board Vice President and a teacher for the class, said. "We help to separate the individual from the illness, and the class participants learn to see the person behind the illness and this helps them with communication."

It also aims to address the stigma that still exists.

"We try to take the guilt from maybe parent, spouses or other loved ones and try to give them communication techniques and an understanding of what the other person is going through," Rogahn said.

In the past year, participation in NAMI's family to family classes have more than doubled. Rogahn says more people participating in the class shows they are making progress, but there are still obstacles to overcome.

Stigers said whether it's in a class, or through a group, reaching out for help is the first step.

"It gives you strength to go on when you know there are other people facing those challenges, and you can talk to them and hear what they've done and they share what they have done, so I think the support group - the basic support group - is step number one," said Stigers.

The classes will be held on Tuesdays, starting on January 6, 2020, at 6:00 p.m. at the Ecumenical Community Center, and Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m. at the Marion Public Library.