Written by: Trina Bockus, Family Support Specialist
Attending a Family Support Group for the first time might feel a bit awkward – it isn’t an experience many of us have had before our loved one is diagnosed with a mental health condition. However, it’s simply a group of people with a commonality coming together to encourage and support one another. After everyone finds a seat, the facilitators (who also have loved ones with a mental health condition) introduce themselves and begin the meeting by sharing the NAMI Guidelines (how the meeting will run) and Principles of Support (statements of belief for those living with and supporting those with mental illness, things like “We expect a better future in a realistic way” and “We aim for better coping skills”).
Each group member then shares a short one to two minute check-in about their family and what is going on for them right now. If someone is not comfortable sharing, that’s ok, no one is ever forced to speak. After everyone has checked-in, the facilitators and the group address everyone’s individual issues starting with what seems to need the most attention at the moment based on someone’s emotional state or what is going on with their loved one. The group can discuss anything and everything related to a loved one with a mental health condition from asking about local providers, asking what happens at the NAMI Drop-In Center, to discussing more difficult topics like hospitalization. Group members often share their experience with similar situations and/or community resources (this is referred to as Group Wisdom). Members might also share their experience coping with their loved one’s symptoms, setting boundaries or how they encourage their loved ones to seek treatment and support. We also discuss how we practice self-care, because as caregivers it’s crucial that we meet our own needs so that we can be there for those we love. The groups are 90 minutes long. Participants leave feeling validated understood, and often with increased hope for recovery.
To serve families in our communities, NAMI Metro Suburban has three different Family Support Groups. A group for parents of teens/tweens meets the first Thursday of the month in Western Springs, a Spanish language group meets in Maywood on the last Thursday of the month and a Family Support group for anyone who has a loved one with a mental health condition meets the first and third Tuesdays of each month in Oak Park. You can find more details on all our Family Support groups on our website.
Two of the key outcomes of attending a Family Support Group is knowing that you are not alone, that others understand what you are going through, that they are willing to share what has helped them and developing a sense of hope, that recovery is possible and that your family can come to a place of better communication and support. If you are a family member or friend of a loved one with a mental condition and could use to share your experience as well as hear from others who have similar experiences, we hope you’ll join a NAMI Family Support Group soon!
“I’ve been attending my local NAMI support group for about 1 year now. Have learned from both the facilitator and other attendees in the room, that I/we are not alone in this struggle of understanding my/our loved one’s mental illness and that through sharing our stories, that there is hope for a better future.
Also have changed how I act/react to my loved one when a manic episode arises. I have learned through better understanding of this illness that my approach now is a much softer & gentler one and does not have to be an argumentative one.
Thank you, NAMI”.
A loving father
If you have any questions, feel free to call or email Trina Bockus, Family Support Specialist at email@example.com or 708-524-2582, x 108