After the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, helped Jacqueline Spielman during a tough time, as she was trying to assist family members dealing with depression and anxiety, she decided to become an advocate for the organization and undergo training to become an instructor in the group’s Family-to-Family Education Program. It’s a series of 12 classes that help people learn how to best support a loved one who is dealing with a mental illness.
With a new run of classes set to start March 9 in Westminster, the Times recently caught up with Spielman to learn more about NAMI and and the Family-to-Family program. An edited transcript of that interview is presented below.
Q: What is NAMI for those who are not familiar, and what’s their presence like here in Carroll County?
A: It stands for National Alliance on Mental Illness, and what it encompasses is hope, resiliency and quality of life for folks who are affected and their families. So that’s kind of what our value system is. Don’t ever give up, there is always a better place, and to always stay in the here and now, because tomorrow has no guarantees, and that’s for anything.
Q: How did you become involved in NAMI?
A: I have been a member of NAMi for the past three years. I’m a registered nurse and have worked in critical care for 21 years and have been in nursing forever. Depression and anxiety runs throughout both my husband and mine’s family, and so we had a very personal experience experience with it in our own family. I was desperate and I didn’t know where to go and the Carroll Hospital folks said, “well, you might look into NAMI.” I was like, "NAMI? What the heck is NAMI?” I had no clue.
So I started at the family support group, which is run by two facilitators. It was a great start for me. They taught me it was OK to feel the feelings that I was feeling, pointed me to some resources and it just grew from there. I went on to become trained on the state level as a Family-to-Family instructor. In the past year I’ve taught two courses and we have a third one coming up.
Q: What about the family-to-family program specifically? What is it about and what does it actually look like to participate?
A: Family to Family is a group of participants — the bigger the group the better — that can be any family member. It can be a sibling, a parent, or a grandchild; anybody but the person that is actually affected [by mental illness]. It is geared more toward helping the family member cope, find the resources, identify the early phase of mental health issues, what it looks like. What recovery looks like and the pace of recovery. We compare it very much to physical illness, because it is biological and for one person it might take longer to get better — we might want them to get better yesterday, but that’s not always going to happen.
It’s 12 weeks and it is jam-packed with a little bit of everything. It has education, it goes over medications, it goes over how to find a good psychiatrist, it touches on the Parity Act and some of the inequality stuff that goes on with medical health versus behavioral health. It talks about recovery.
We have four interactive classes and they are very fun and eye-opening. An empathy workshop that teaches you to be a more tolerant person, that just because that person is prickly and unpleasant doesn’t mean they are doing it because that’s what they want to do.
We have a self-care class, we have a recovery class, and that is a person that has walked the walk, they have gotten better. They take their medications, they see their counselor, they do exercise; whatever they do to stay well. And they have gone on to be trained and have come back and give to the community. They are the best role models of what recovery looks like for a person who has mental illness.
Q: You have series of family-to-family courses starting on March 9. Can you tell us the nuts and bolts of that for those who want to participate?
A: We’re going to be starting March 9, it’s in Westminster. We don’t want to have walk-ins: Call to register for a brief question and answer to confirm a good fit.
Q: And speaking of fit, I understand this is not a group focused on substance use recovery, correct?
A: Correct. We do sometimes see some dual diagnosis, but primarily we want to have the folks that are trying to learn with how to cope with their person who is pacing back and forth and is not interacting or not bathing or whatever. They want to know the resources that are out there to help them.
Q: Do people need to commit to come to all of the classes?
A: What we do is we close after three. the first three classes are open to whoever fits the criteria, but after class three we are closed, and the reason is people are beginning to develop a rapport and bonding with each other. So after class three if someone walks in it kind of impacts the relationships with the people. What’s really great about it is at the end of the program, we see a great group of people that are still in connection with each other. They are their own support system for each other.
Q: What should people know about other resources NAMI offers in the Carroll County area?
A: Other services that NAMI provide include the first and the third Tuesday, the family support group and it’s a cool place to ventilate and get some feedback from people in a non-judgmental setting. We also have Peer Connections, and that is the 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. the first and the third Wednesday at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Westminster. That is facilitated by a peer who is in recovery. That also is a place to ventilate. If someone has just gotten out of the hospital and is worried, ‘how am I going to manage my day by day stuff?’ That’s the place to be. It’s a very informal setting and helps them to cope with day-to-day life skills stuff.
Q: Where can people go to learn more about those things and register to attend?
A: They can get on the NAMI Website at namiccmd.org.
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Q: If people miss this series of family-to-family classes, when would be their next opportunity?
A: The next one will probably be in September, around the time that school starts. We usually offer it twice a year.
If you go
What: National Alliance on Mental Illness Family-to-Family Education Program
When: Weekly for 12 weeks beginning March 9
For more information or to register, call 443-952-0077 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Walk-ins are not accepted for this program.