Mental illness support offered to families

The National Alliance on Mental Illness meets in the church each week at 6:45 p.m. in the Community Presbyterian Church on the corner of 1st South and College Avenue. The NAMI offers support for families whose members struggle with mental illnesses. KATRIEL ABBOTT | Scroll Photography

Handling a mental illness can be hard, not only for the person suffering from it, but for his or her family members as well.
The local meetings for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) meet every Thursday at 6:45 p.m. in the basement of the red brick Community Presbyterian church on the corner of College Avenue and 1st South.
“This is a class for people who have family members who have mental illness,” said Jane Roberts, one of the facilitators of the class. “It’s not fun to have a family member with mental illness.”
The meetings are designed as lessons to teach family members more about what their loved ones are experiencing.
“People seem to be a bit more open-minded, a little more understanding,” said Resource Person Craig Tanner, whose parents have been involved with NAMI for the 14 years he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The meetings take place in a 12-week series every April to July and September to November. The Rexburg meetings were set up after a group of BYU-Idaho college students called Jane and her husband, Larry, and asked them to start a local meeting.
“[The students] worked really hard to get the group going,” Jane said. “A year ago, by November, they had tried every avenue they could think and found the school wasn’t going to let them do it.”
BYU-I denied NAMI access to campus buildings, so the Roberts reached out to the local Presbyterian church to host the meetings.
“Oh, they’ve been wonderful. We are tremendously relieved,” said Jane. “We try to give them some kind of thank you at the end of each class.”
On Thursday, Jane and Larry Roberts, the two facilitators, arrived before the rest of the family support group to set up. Tables with white tablecloths were already prepared. Pictures and statues of Christ were on almost every surface.
Two tables displayed an array of books: “Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder,” “Screaming to Be Heard” and “The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia.”
Off to the side there were a few pamphlets in Spanish, though the Roberts don’t have any Spanish speakers in their Rexburg group at the moment.
“We hope to involve the Spanish-speaking community at some point,” Jane said.
When everyone in the group had arrived, the lesson began. Everyone received a thick packet to follow along with the lecture. When one of the facilitators was not reading, the seven members went around the table and read out loud.
The subjects for Wednesday night’s meeting were depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorders, co-occurring brain disorders and addictive disorders.
Everyone sitting at the table was dealing with different stages of different illnesses in different ways. At the end of the reading, members took turns talking about their experiences.
Suzelle Orr, whose son is in jail with a double diagnosis of mental illnesses, is self-professed overly optimistic.
“It gives me a little bit of hope,” she said after reading a passage relating to her son’s condition, “because it doesn’t have ‘psychotic’ in it.”
Jane smiled across the table at her,
“Not as bad as you thought?” Jane Roberts asked.
One couple, Shery and Bob, described the different mental illnesses they had dealt with in their lives.
“I feel the tension and go into the bedroom,” Bob said. “I feel kind of guilty about that.”
Bob’s ex-wife had been kidnapped, raped and left for dead. The trauma left her scarred, with depression and forms of reckless behavior.
In addition, they also have two mentally ill daughters.
“People tell me they can’t believe I handle [taking care of my daughter] as well as I do,” said Shery.
After the discussion, Jane and Larry told their own stories.
“Everyone here is a hero for dealing with these things and for coming to this class,” Jane said.

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