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Mental Wellness Center’s NAMI Family-to-Family Celebrates 500th Graduate

Free program assists families of people living with mental health disabilities

The Mental Wellness Center (formerly the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County) is continuously working to aid the families of Santa Barbara County with their mental health needs. Key to this effort has been NAMI Family to Family, a program developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness and offered here by its affiliate, NAMI Southern Santa Barbara County, which operates as a program of the Mental Wellness Center.

Family-to-Family Counseling is a free program that allows families of people living with mental health disabilities to come together to learn about mental illnesses and their treatments, how to best support the recovery of their ill family member.

The series of 12 weekly classes provides information about the most common mental illnesses, including major depression, bipolar disorder (formerly called manic depression), schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder, borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, co-occurring brain disorders and addictive disorders.

Additionally, the course helps participants learn more effective coping skills such as how to deal with crisis and relapse, how to communicate more effectively with their ill relative, and how to access community resources on behalf of their ill relative. Active listening, problem solving, recovery support and self-care techniques are also taught in the program.

One of the most valuable aspects of the program participants identify is just being able to be with others like them who have similar experiences and problems. This is also why the program can only be taught by other family members who have had firsthand experience with mental illness in one of their family members. These teachers are empathetic about the issues that all families touched by mental health disorders must deal with. The Family-to-Family program aids families coping with each class member receives a 350-page course notebook.

Class members include parents, siblings, children, spouses and significant others of people with serious mental illness. Participants who have completed the course often ascribe amazing benefits to the program.

Michelle Chen, a recent graduate, describes her experience as extremely valuable and recommends it to all Santa Barbara residents coping with the mental illness of a loved one.

“This program has benefited me in so many ways,” Chen said. “It has been a tremendous help in my coping process and in my ability to support my mother. In the Family to Family course, the advice and encouragements were from deep understanding and shared experience, which provided comfort rather than pressure, peace rather than stress.”

NAMI Family to Family has been offered locally at least twice yearly since 2000 leading to the milestone of recently graduating the 500th local participant, Claire Gottsdanker. Nationally, more than 250,000 people have completed the class, which has also recently been recognized as an “evidence based practice” in the management of mental health disorders.

In addition to the Mental Wellness Center and NAMI Southern Santa Barbara County, this program is partially sponsored by the California Department of Mental Health and the Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services.

For registration and more information about Family-to-Family, call the Family Advocate office at the Mental Wellness Center at 805.884.8440 x3206.

— Kelly Kapaun is a publicist representing the Mental Wellness Center.

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