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For families with loved ones with severe mental illness, some education, training, and support to help deal with the issues they're facing goes a long way.
Beginning Monday, Feb. 4, the Shoreline affiliate of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) CT and Guilford Youth & Family Services will sponsor the NAMI Family-to-Family Education program specifically for area families of those diagnosed with serious mental illness.
The 12-week series of classes, a free service, convenes Feb. 4 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Guilford Community Center. Co-teachers for the sixth year are wife and husband Jeanne and Daniel Proctor of Guilford.
"This course is a wonderful experience," said Jeanne Proctor, "It balances basic psycho-education and skill-training with emotional support, self-care, and empowerment. We hope families with relatives who have a serious mental illness will take advantage of this unique opportunity."
The Proctors are one such shoreline family. As early as age 5, the Proctors' son showed signs of pervasive developmental disorder, a pre-psychotic indicator. By his teenaged years, the boy (he's now 32), was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a serious mental illness. Navigating the highs and lows of helping their son to manage his life and his illness led the Proctors to sign up for a NAMI Family-to-Family education and support course. The two found the course so valuable, they went back to become trained as instructors.
"Most who come to class are already in crisis," Dan Proctor said in a 2012 interview. "They're at the end of their rope. This class gives them hope and teaches them how to manage their lives and their loved one's lives. It starts out as an instructional group, but after 12 weeks, it also ends up being a support group. Everyone knows everyone else's story-and if you know someone's story, it's impossible not to understand them."
During the 12-week period, the course covers information about schizophrenia, mood disorders (bipolar disorder and major depression), panic disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. It teaches coping skills such as handling crisis and relapse. Family members will learn basic information about medications, techniques for listening and communication, and problem-solving skills. The course also touches on recovery and rehabilitation and the importance of self-care in an atmosphere of worry and stress.
The course is designed specifically for parents, siblings, spouses, teenaged and adult sons and daughters, partners, and significant others who are caregivers of persons with severe and persistent mental illness. It's not for individuals who themselves have a major mental illness, the Proctors noted.
The NAMI Family-to-Family course is a free service to families in need, but because of the 12-week commitment and limited space, advanced registration is required. For more information or to register, call Daniel or Jeanne Proctor at 203-453-2530 or Paloma Dee at the NAMI-CT office at 800-215-3021.