A Havre woman has finished a years-long effort to bring help to local families dealing with mental illnesses, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Family-to-Family course starting in Havre Thursday, Jan. 10.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to get going for a while, so I’m excited, ” said Cindy Ellingson, who will be co-teaching the Havre classes with Pam Veis of the Havre Center for Mental Health.
The deadline to register is Sunday, Jan. 6.
Veis said 10 people already are registered for the class, which has a recommended size of 20-25 people.
“We’ve still got room, ” Ellingson added.
They invite people interested in the class to call them, Veis at 262-5197 or Ellingson at 265-6409.
The course was written by clinical psychologist Joyce Burland, former national director of the Education, Training and Peer Support Center at NAMI, who had personal experience on the topic. Both Burland’s sister and her daughter live with schizophrenia.
Since the course was developed by Burland, more than 300,000 people have participated in Family-to-Family. The classes have been taught in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico.
Ellingson said she will share with the people in the class her experiences dealing with her son’s mental illness.
“Families go through a lot of things, so it’s a good support, teaching them that they’re not alone in this illness …, ” she said. “Looking back, I wish I had this — the Family-to-Family course — just something I could work with. ”
Veis said the course deals with specific topics each week, starting with an introduction in the first class, then subsequent classes discussing specific mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders.
Another class session is spent discussing the basics of the brain. Veis said it is important for people taking the course to understand that there is a biological basis for the illnesses in their family members.
Other classes deal with topics such as problem solving, medications, communications, self-care and advocacy.
Advocacy is a crucial part of NAMI, Ellingson and Veis said. A problem for classes like Family-to-Family is that while the course discusses the stigma associated with mental illness and how to overcome it, that very stigma keeps many people from signing up for the courses.
“I think that’s the biggest barrier, ” Veis said.
While some progress has been made in overcoming the stigma associated with mental illness, many people still refuse to talk about the issue and try to avoid or shun people with mental illnesses. That leads to many who are in need of help being unable and unwilling to get that help.
“So, Cindy is the brave person, ” Veis said. “I think it always takes the brave person to step up and say, ‘Here I am, I’m going to talk about it, ’ and she’s going to set the example and be a role model, and I’m very proud of her. ”
One of Ellingson’s goals in starting the class, which requires a person with a family member who lives with mental illness to be one of the teachers, is to find people to continue the 12-week course. She and Veis have committed to teach it for two years, this January through March and in 2014.
Another goal is to try to develop support groups and activities for people affected by mental illnesses. Veis said that north-central Montana now has very little for support groups for those people.
“Support groups can branch off of this, ” she said.
“And that’s our hope, ” Ellingson added.
She said one of those hopes is for Havre to start a strong NAMI chapter. She and a few others meet the last Tuesday of each month at 5:30 p. m. in Havre-Hill County Library, but they have not yet raised the required five members to create a formal chapter of NAMI.
“That’s the problem, ” Ellingson said. “Theres just a few of us joining. That’s another reason this class is so important … They need that support. ”
Veis said the need for courses like Family-to-Family and local support groups or organizations is high. Statistics show 1-in-4 people will be affected by some type of mental disorder in their lifetime. Schizophrenia will affect 1-in-100 people, meaning about 100 people in Havre alone are dealing with that illness, she said.
“So we know that they’re out there and in need of help, ” Veis said.
Ellingson said she knows from experience the need for the class.
“It’s greatly affected our family, period, and so this class, it’s just a God-send, ” she said. “It gives them hope. ”
For more information about Family-to-Family or to register for the class, call Pam Veis at 262-5197 or Cindy Ellingson at 265-6409.