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Family-to-Family Program a ‘Life-Changing’ Step for Those Grappling with Mental Wellness Challenges

12-week Mental Wellnes Center course focuses on coping, community resources, communication, crisis and relapse

(Melissa Walker / Noozhawk video)

[Noozhawk’s note: This article is the fourth in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]

When Ann Lippincott’s daughter was first diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder in 2003, the first phone call she made was to the Mental Wellness Center. That call led to an association she continues today, teaching courses in the Family-to-Family Program.

 “As my family progressed through my daughter’s illness, I was looking for a way to give back — having been a professional educator and teacher educator for the last four decades,” Lippincott told Noozhawk.

“It was natural for me to get involved in education, which happens to be one of the pillars of the Mental Wellness Center.”

Together with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Santa Barbara County, the nonprofit Mental Wellness Center provides training and education for families with self care and advocacy. This partnership grew 4 percent in 2013-2014 and now serves 52 people while offering free services that include the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ monthly educational meetings and Family-to-Family bilingual course.

“Here in Santa Barbra, NAMI is a program of the Mental Wellness Center,” explained Annmarie Cameron, MWC’s CEO. “Both NAMI and the MWC are dedicated to supporting families and those affected by mental illness, so we choose to combine our efforts.”

The 12-week Family-to-Family course is free to family members caring for someone with a serious mental illness. The next set of courses is scheduled to begin Feb. 4.

Serious mental illness includes bipolar disorder, major depression schizophrenia and other mental health conditions.

Often referred to as “life changing,” the course has graduated nearly 600 participants and has been credited with saving families that are affected by serious mental illness.

Course instructors are NAMI members with certification from the organization and provide information to help families explore a personal path toward well-being.

“Education is important not only for the person who has the mental health diagnosis and that person’s family, but education for the community at large,” Lippincott said.

The course helps participants learn more effective coping skills, such as how to access community resources; more effective communication with the person affected by mental illness; and how to deal with crisis and relapse.

Margaret Crouch was another instructor who was introduced to the program as a result of family members with a mental illness, including her older sister and son.

Crouch had attended a speaker presentation and first learned about the involuntary psychiatric hold known as a “5150,” as well as the Family-to-Family education courses that she and her husband decided to take.

“It was a godsend and it was so very helpful to us,” she said. “It explained a lot of things that I’d been dealing with historically, and it really helped me through some very challenging, very difficult times.”

In addition to the training, instructors bring an empathetic and personal background as people who have been in similar family situations as caregivers.

“After I took the Family-to-Family course I decided to be an instructor, so I took the training and I actually taught the course several times,” Crouch said. “And I found that it was so helpful to me to be able to give back to the community and to share experiences that I’ve had that were helpful to my loved one and to see people respond.”

There is no charge for the Family-to-Family courses that are only open to family members and caregivers of someone with a serious mental illness. Pre-registration is required. For more information and to register, contact family advocate Carol Hawkes at 805.845.3206 or [email protected].

The Mental Wellness Center also offers a course for people to learn how to manage their own anxiety or depression over the long term. The Wellness Recovery and Action Plan (WRAP) courses are offered through the center’s Community Wellness Program.

The WRAP course runs 12 weeks and begins Jan. 22. There is no charge and pre-registration is required. For more information and to register, contact Stacy McCrory at 805.845.3246.

First taught in 1997, WRAP was developed by a leader in mental health self-management and care, Mary Ellen Copeland, to assist people feeling frustrated by the negative impacts of mental health conditions and needing an effective plan of action.

WRAP is now embraced worldwide and is listed on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national registry of evidence-based practices.

“Because of stigma, typically people who don’t understand mental health diagnoses have a negative and unfair attitude about people with mental illness,” Lippincott said.

“And education is what can address these misunderstandings and turn it around so that people can in fact turn it around and get the help they need and deserve.”

Click here for more information about the Mental Wellness Center, or call 805.884.8440. Click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk contributing writer Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Ann Lippincott, chairwoman of the Mental Wellness Center Education Committee and a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Santa Barbara County, leads a sixth-grade 'Mental Health Matters!' class. 'Because of stigma, typically people who don’t understand mental health diagnoses have a negative and unfair attitude about people with mental illness,' she says. 'Education is what can address these misunderstandings and turn it around.' (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)
Ann Lippincott, chairwoman of the Mental Wellness Center Education Committee and a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Santa Barbara County, leads a sixth-grade “Mental Health Matters!” class. “Because of stigma, typically people who don’t understand mental health diagnoses have a negative and unfair attitude about people with mental illness,” she says. “Education is what can address these misunderstandings and turn it around.” (Mental Wellness Center photo)

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