‘Family to Family’ tackles mental illness

By David J. Coehrs - [email protected]

Roger and Sharon Weaver were admittedly clueless.

The Wauseon couple had taken in a teenage grandson whose parents kicked him out after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. “They thought he should shape up. They didn’t believe (the diagnosis) because there was no testing done,” Sharon Weaver recalled.

In fact, no tests for bipolar disorder have been developed. But the Weavers quickly detected signs of their grandson’s condition, such as constant pacing, insomnia and rapid speech. They had no idea, however, what to expect from his mental illness or how to deal with it.

The situation intensified as their grandson refused them access to his psychiatric sessions. Then he got into trouble with alcohol, and was ordered by a local court to complete a recovery program.

Even after searching the Internet for information, the Weavers remained baffled by his actions until they attended “Family to Family.” The free 12-week course was developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as a coping mechanism for family members and friends of mentally ill individuals.

“Boy, our eyes were opened. We learned a lot,” Weaver said.

Beginning Sept. 14, the course will be offered 6-8:30 p.m. on consecutive Mondays in the conference room at First Church of God, 507 N. Fulton St., in Wauseon. Available after a three-year absence, it will be taught by the Weavers, who have taken the course twice and received training to teach it as members of the local NAMI Four County branch.

“Family to Family,” which has also assisted professionals lacking behavioral health training, presents a different topic each week regarding mental illness. The material offers information from the standpoint of professionals, family members and friends who contend with mentally ill individuals.

Participants will learn the symptoms and facts of major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, panic disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as treatments.

Additional topics will include difficult periods experienced by the mentall ill; the latest medications; problem-solving; and strategies for communicating with a mentally ill person.

The course is listed in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national registry of evidence-based programs and practices.

“We didn’t know anything until we took the class,” Weaver said. “When you’re with a group of people, and they tell their stories, you realize you’re not the only one.”

Through experiencing the course, and then being trained in its curriculum, Roger Weaver learned that one in four people suffer from some degree of mental illness. He also was introduced to the long-held stigma attached to the mentally ill, and the fact that mental illness is physiological in nature.

“They all feel isolated. We’re working toward trying to remove the stigma,” he said. “(Mental illness) is more like cancer or heart disease.”

NAMI Four County Secretary Lou Levy said eight people are currently trained to teach the course, which originated as “Journey of Hope” in the 1990s. It has been attended by people from as far as Paulding County and counties in southern Michigan.

The branch hopes to offer the “Family to Family” twice a year.

Levy said people who take the course are often surprised at how many others share their experience.

“The one thing that comes through is people saying, ‘I didn’t know anyone else was going through this besides myself,’” he said. “They find they’re not alone, and they’ve got a support network they gain from the NAMI classes. For a time, you try to get through it on your own. Then you decide, ‘Now’s the time. I need to do this.’ We hit people at the right time with the right message.”

The Weavers’ grandson is now taking medication for his bipolar disorder and living on his own. He communicates with his parents, and speaks with his grandparents once a week.

Roger Weaver said what’s important to remember is that NAMI offers family members and friends of the mentally ill a network of supporters. “We’re not the only ones going through this problem,” he said.

For more information or to register for “Family to Family,” call Roger or Sharon Weaver at 419-335-1099.

By David J. Coehrs

[email protected]

David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.

David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.