NAMI Metro Suburban Blog

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Raising Awareness of Mental Illness: NAMI Family Support Group Facilitators

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Although many individuals and larger grassroots organizations like NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness continuously work to raise awareness and combat stigma related to mental illness, many people remain in the dark as to how mental illness affects all of us. Many people do not know that in this country, as many as 1-in-5 adults are living with a mental illness and 1-in-25 adults are experiencing a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. It is likely because of this general lack of awareness and the resulting stigma, that as many as 60% of people experiencing mental illness have not received treatment with the past year (NAMI, 2016) Despite the work of NAMI and many other dedicated organizations and individuals, there remains an overwhelming lack of general knowledge of the prevalence and cost of untreated mental illness. Because of this, it is also very likely that healthcare and criminal justice systems remain, for the most part, seriously underfunded and grotesquely ill-equipped to handle what should truly be considered a national public health concern. NAMI Family Support Groups is one of the many ways NAMI is working to raise awareness of mental illness and trained volunteer NAMI Family Support Group Facilitators are the backbone of this vital program.

As a loved one of someone recovering from a serious mental illness, I had always wanted to do "more" to combat the stigma and raise awareness of the struggle which my family shared with so many others. Despite my best intentions, our fight often left me feeling resentful, disheartened and absolutely exhausted. Like many others, I constantly found myself reacting to crisis after crisis and hitting every barrier and obstacle imaginable in my attempts to help my loved one. This left me with little time or energy to pursue opportunities to receive and give support to others facing the same obstacles and crises at the same time. Even with my lengthy and intensive training as a Licensed Social Worker, I did not know where to start in my personal mission to become an advocate for policies and programs that better the lives of those recovering from mental illness and their allies. It was only when my family's struggle tragically and abruptly ended, that I was able to shift my attention towards advocacy and raising awareness for others and NAMI helped me to find my voice.

Four months after my mother, Anita Ellen Keoppen, passed away from chronic health conditions that were exacerbated by her chronic mental illness, I was gifted the opportunity by NAMI-Metro Suburban to become a NAMI Family Support Group Facilitator. Since September of 2016, I have had the privilege of sharing personal struggles, triumphs and hopes with many of families from Oak Park and many of the surrounding areas. Through NAMI, I take what was often a devastatingly isolating and sometimes traumatic experience, caring and advocating for a loved one with mental illness, and use this to connect others with local allies and the awesome resources NAMI-Metro-Suburban provides. NAMI Family Support Group Facilitators are the family members of those recovering from mental illness who undergo extensive evidence-based training and volunteer their time, as little as three hours a month, to make a difference in the lives of others. NAMI Family Support Group and Family-to-Family Facilitators bring a personal, empathetic touch to the support and educational groups offered in many communities supported by NAMI.

Written by Christina M. Keoppen, MSW, LSW

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Tuesday, 22 October 2019