Editor’s note: This is one in a series of columns written in observance of National Mental Illness Awareness Week, submitted by the local chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
By Carol A. Racz Greene
For the Salisbury Post
Let me open by way of introducing NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) from a slightly poetic point of view. NAMI can be (and I quote from an old Gospel hymn) “a light in the darkness” — a light for someone who may be “weary and troubled” (quoting same) from dealing with mental illness.
Although I quote lyrics from a Christian gospel hymn, NAMI is not about a religion. Faith and hope, yes; any one particular religion, no. NAMI’s mission is to help those individuals who are “weary and troubled” because they are suffering from a mental illness.
I thought of these lyrics in regards to the principles of recovery in NAMI because they share a similar message: to succeed in life, no matter how hard it gets, you need to focus not on the negativity of despair and helplessness but to the positives of hope, support and self-worth.
NAMI’s mission is to promote recovery and optimize the quality of life of those affected by mental illness. From its inception in 1979, NAMI has been dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness.
We are a grassroots movement that focuses specifically upon mental illnesses that are dysfunctions of the brain. These are serious illnesses that can affect a person’s ability to think, feel and relate to other people and the environment.
For adults, serious mental illnesses include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and other brain disorders. For children, the list includes the above disorders, plus attention deficit disorder, autism and pervasive developmental disorder.
Because mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in four adults and one in 10 children — or 60 million Americans — NAMI works every day to save and help every life in need.
Thousands of members and supporters are the face and voice of the NAMI movement: families, individuals and businesses who come together to celebrate mental illness recovery, to honor those who have lost their lives to mental illness and to combat stigma, promote awareness and advocate for others. NAMI stays focused on educating America about mental illness.
NAMI is a lifesaver to many, offering help, hope and resources to the millions of individuals affected by mental illness.
NAMI North Carolina is part of NAMI National, which has more than 210,000 members in 1,200 affiliates across the country. NAMI NC is a nonprofit organization, governed by a board of directors and has 40 affiliates across North Carolina.
According to Nami.org, anxiety disorders affect 18.7 percent of adults. They include panic-disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder and phobias. Anxiety disorders frequently co-occur with depression or addiction disorders.
Schizophrenia affects about 2.4 million Americans or 1.1 percent of the adult population
Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million American adults, about 2.6 percent of the adult population per year
Major depression affects 6.7 percent of adult Americans or about 14.8 million. According to the World Health report, this is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for those ages 15-44.
Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatments, there are long delays, sometime decades, between the first onset of symptoms and when people seek and receive treatment.
As a member and a volunteer, I have become a NAMI Certified Peer-to-Peer Support Specialist, the secretary on the board of NAMI Rowan and an “In Our Own Voice” presenter. All this has built upon my past B.A. degree in psychology (with an emphasis on courses in child and family development and biopsychology).
When mental illness strikes, it is usually surrounded by confusion and isolation. NAMI support groups and educational meetings and programs can provide an opportunity not only to inform but to talk with other people who have “been there” and who understand what they are facing. For example, NAMI Rowan holds meetings the first and third Tuesday every month at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church on Statesville Boulevard. Call Peggy at 704-640-8811 or Carol at 704-431-4171 for directions or if you have questions.
Here are some programs offered by NAMI:
• Family-to-Family Education Program: a free, 12-session course on mental illness that includes ways to understand one’s illness, how to help the family member cope with their illness and helps the family overcome the difficulties of living with severe mental illness;
• In Our Own Voice Presentations: show how individuals cope with the realities of their disorder.
• The Peer-To-Peer Education Program: a free, nine-session course that provides a binder of hand-out materials, tangible resources, an advance directive, a “relapse prevention plan,” exercises to help focus and calm thinking, and survival skills for working with providers and the general public.
• NAMI Support Groups: free, structured and effective support meetings.
• NAMI Connection: a free recovery support group program.
• NAMI Basics: a free, six-week course for parents or direct caregivers of children who show symptoms of mental illness before the age of 13 (no matter what age they are now). This course teaches that mental illness is a biological brain disorder and covers ADHD, ODD, CD, major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, OCD and substance use disorders
Are you weary and troubled? It is a question we all can identify with from time to time. And the answer provided by NAMI and represented in the hymn is one of hope and positive focus. “Turning one’s eye upon” that which is positive leads one to the “light in the darkness.” Another relevant lyric is from a song in the ’40s. It praises positive focus: “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and don’t mess with ‘Mr. In-Between.’ ” One contemporary song: “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger.”
To answer the title’s question regarding my life: sometimes I am weary and troubled, but I am alive and stronger dealing and getting through problems and I am always working on maintaining a positive focus. Being a part of NAMI Rowan is one of the factors that has positively impacted my life. I deal with managing major depression and an anxiety disorder.
Now you answer the question for yourself or for someone close to you: “Are you weary and troubled (from dealing with mental illness)?” Or are you accentuating the positive? Or are you still standing after hardships but all the stronger because of it? Or all of the above?
Would NAMI make a positive difference for you or for someone you care about?
Carol A. Racz Greene is the vice president of the NAMI of Rowan Board.