Free classes on mental illness offer family, individual support in Merced County

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 2, 2013 

— Family members play a critical part in the recovery of people who suffer from a mental illness, experts say.

To provide area families with additional support in that struggle, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Merced County is planning to hold some free classes in the coming month.

"People who have family support are far more likely to recover than not," said Mary Hofmann, former NAMI president. "Family is one of the prime predictors in recovery."

Few know this better than 67-year-old Carole Roberds. The Atwater resident remembers the day she received the news about her son 18 years ago.

"He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder," Roberds said of her son, now 39. "It's very scary because people don't talk freely about mental illness, and you don't know who's going to help you."

Roberds found comfort by attending NAMI's 12-week class to support families, Family-to-Family. She now helps lead the classes.

"For me, it put me in touch with a lot of people who knew an awful lot," she said. "You learn about what happens in the brain, the impact of various medications. This is a place where people can speak freely and find others who can relate to what they're going through."

Hofmann said NAMI has offered the Family-to-Family class twice a year for the last 10 years. The group also offers Peer-to-Peer, a free 10-week class for those suffering from mental illness themselves.

Hofmann, 67, recalls how her family dealt with her father's major depression many decades ago.

"He would try to commit suicide and when we'd go to see him at the hospital, it was like they thought it was the family's fault," Hofmann said.

A breast cancer survivor, Hofmann said she wants to see the same support for families of those suffering from mental illness, as families with loved ones battling cancer receive.

"We want to dispel the fear and make people feel accepted," Hofmann said. "We want them to understand that life goes on. You can find positive, rewarding ways to live and still have mental illness in the family."

The Family-to-Family class starts Sept. 5 and meets Thursdays from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The Peer-to-Peer class begins Sept. 19.

For more information or to sign up for a class, contact NAMI at (209) 381-6844.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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