Mental illness programs offer help

Tony Lange

Family-to-family course begins today

Families would not be able to understand their loved ones as much as they do without Portage County’s Family-to-Family program, said Karen Cox, National Alliance on Mental Illness coordinator.

The first session of the free 12 week program starts today and is open to people who have a family member or loved one who has a mental illness. Classes are scheduled every Thursday from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Sue Hetrick Building of Coleman Professional Services in Ravenna.

“We can argue, we can discuss things, we can laugh about things, but we’re a family,” said Cox, who became one of more than 115,000 members to graduate from the national program. “People with mental illness have doctors and all kinds of places to help them, but there’s no place for families to get help with their needs. Family-to-Family provides that opportunity.”

Instructing the class are trained NAMI members who have loved ones with mental illnesses, said Amie Cajka, community relations director of Portage’s Mental Health and Recovery Board.

“They are the best people to teach that class and help out others who want to know more,” Cajka said. “You don’t have to be alone in a situation. There’s support out there. Other family members are dealing with it.”

The course includes information about schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder (manic depression), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder and co-occurring brain and addictive disorders, according to NAMI’s Web site.

The program’s members come from such diverse backgrounds that anyone who comes in with a problem can relate to someone from NAMI who has already experienced what they’re going through, said Cox, whose son is bipolar and diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism).

“A lot of them, what they need more than anything, is somebody just to listen and talk and say, ‘I’ve got this problem. Does anybody else have it?'” Cox said. “And of course half the people say ‘Oh yeah. I’ve been there, did that.'”

Cajka, who lost a friend to suicide, said she always wonders about the “what ifs.”

“I look back on it now and think gosh, if I would have known about what his loss had been, I would have been talking to him a little differently,” Cajka said. “That’s why it’s important that we stop from our really busy lives and just make sure we take care of people we love and care about.”

Mental illness programs are about helping others maintain a balance in life, said Cajka, whose MHRB program provides services to more than 6,800 Portage residents yearly.

“It’s not about being unworthy. It’s not about being less than perfect. It’s not any of those things,” Cajka said. “It’s just about, you know, life comes at you with all kinds of things to experience. Some of them are good, some of them are bad and sometimes we need help.”

Contact social services reporter Tony Lange at [email protected].