Supporting Loved Ones of Mentally Ill

New Class Offers Help for Struggling Family, Friends

Family and close friends of the mentally ill can receive coping skills, counsel, and medical information during a 12-week course offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The free Family-to-Family Education program starts at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 8, and extends weekly until December 1. The course will be taught by trained volunteers experienced in loving someone with a brain disorder and the struggles that come with it.

That’s the power of the course,” said Dr. Ann Lippincott, associate director of UCSB’s teacher education program and one of the Family-to-Family instructors. “You realize you don’t have to go through this all alone. You’re in a room full of people that understand what you’re going through because they’re going through it themselves.”

The course is instructed by Lippincott, UCSB Health and Wellness Education Director Sabina White, and local mother Margaret Crouch. All three started by taking the course themselves, and now teach it.

The course deals with how the brain works, how the brain works with a mental illness, and how medications work, Lippincott said. Also, students will work on communication skills, self-care, and advocacy.

Hopeful participants are required to register and undergo a screening process before attending. For the class, an expected 20 to 25 participants gather in a circular, share-and-tell setting and stick to a scripted curriculum developed by a leading doctor and national director at the alliance, Dr. Joyce Burland. “This is a very complete program,” said Michaelo Balcazar, a family advocate for the Mental Health Association. “It’s very intense.”

The class participants’ loved ones are often struggling with such mental illnesses as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, Balcazar said. (The class does not offer help for families involved with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.)

Mental illness “does affect us all, but people are ashamed to talk about it,” Lippincott said. “Mental illness is horribly stigmatized. There’s a lot of shame derived from misunderstanding.” The alliance works to fight the stigma through education.

Registration and classes will be held at the Mental Health Association at 617 Garden St. in Santa Barbara.

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