NAMI Hernando breathes hope into mental illness challenges

Marie Goodwyn understands the special challenges of a mental illness diagnosis. The Spring Hill resident was diagnosed in 2008 with bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder after a stream of life crises sent her spiraling out of control.

Goodwyn was Baker Act-ed by a family member and spent time at BayCare being evaluated. Five years later, Goodwyn is living a quality life through the help of a regular medicine regiment and support from a local chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness. Founded in 1979, NAMI is funded by small United Way grants and local donations and run by volunteers.

NAMI Hernando in Spring Hill became Goodwyn’s lifeline. Two years ago, she began teaching the Peer to Peer class, which focuses on real-life topics centered on the unique challenges of those who struggle with one or more mental disorder diagnoses. The class helps them bridge the gaps between living a quality life and merely surviving day to day.

“If it wasn’t for NAMI, I wouldn’t be here today,” Goodwyn said matter-of-factly. “The doctors can only do so much.”

According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, a mental disorder is a “medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.”

As many as one-in-four adults suffer from a mental illness diagnosis, as do as many as one-in-12 children under the age of 18. Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada and many who suffer battle more than one disorder.

Mental illness diagnoses cover a wide range of disorders. Below is a sampling:

Mood disorders, including major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, affect about 20.9 million Americans. Depressive disorders often co-occur with anxiety disorders and substance abuse.

Schizophrenia affects approximately 2.4 million American adults. It first appears in men in their early teens or early 20s and in women in their 20s or 30s.

Anxiety disorders include panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and phobias (social phobia, agoraphobia, and specific phobia). Approximately 40 million Americans suffer with anxiety disorders, which frequently co-occur with depressive disorders or substance abuse.

Panic disorders affect approximately 6 million adults ages 18 and older. It typically develops in early adulthood.

Obsessive compulsive disorder affects 2.2 million adults and often begins in childhood or early adolescence.

Post-traumatic stress disorder affects 7.7 million American adults, 19 percent of which are post-war veterans.

Generalized anxiety disorder affects approximately 6.8 million American adults.

Social phobias affect approximately 15 million adults, including Agoraphobia (fear and anxiety of any place or situation) and Specific phobias.

Eating disorders fall into three main categories: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. Women are more likely than men to develop and eating disorder.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in children and adolescents and affects an estimated 4.1 percent of adults ages 18 to 44. It is usually noticed in preschool or early elementary years.

Autism spectrum disorder, affecting as many as 1-in-66 and is four times more likely in boys than girls. Autism is usually diagnosed before age 3.

Personality disorders include antisocial personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder and borderline personality disorder.

NAMI Hernando understands how lonely the journey through mental illness can be. Those who suffer, and those who care about someone who suffers, often find a very thick stigma attached to a diagnosis, making it difficult to seek help and support. It is therefore common to suffer alone and in silence.

NAMI is a national organization founded in 1979 that focuses its efforts on assisting those who are diagnosed by offering varying support outlets, workshops, group gatherings, training and recreational networking. Local communities operate their own chapters through volunteers with many of its active members somehow connected to a mental illness diagnosis, either through a family member or themselves.

NAMI Hernando has been serving local families for 28 years and is run by volunteers and funded through a small United Way grant and local donations. Through their Beautiful Mind Center on Spring Hill Drive, NAMI Hernando holds classes for NAMI Basics (a six-week course for parents and caregivers of children who have a mental illness); Peer to Peer (a nine-week course to help people understand and cope with mental illness); and Family to Family (a 12-week course focused on helping family members understand and cope with their loved one’s mental illness.)

Each course is taught by trained instructors who are walking a similar journey.

NAMI Hernando also holds weekly support groups on Mondays (7 – 8:30 p.m.) and Wednesdays (3 – 5 p.m.)

Rita Tice, NAMI Hernando’s executive director, said the most difficult part is reaching out for support. Yet once the connection is made, families and consumers of mental illness find solace and understanding as they walk the daily path.

Tice has witnessed families turned around because of NAMI. One particular case stood out with her when she met the parents of a child with autism. “They came in not knowing what to do,” she said. Through the support they received from NAMI Hernando, the family is progressing forward.

Like her colleagues, Tice has a working knowledge of the journey because she raised a son with Asperger’s syndrome.

Recently, NAMI Hernando has seen a 300-percent increase in those who walk through the doors of the Beautiful Mind Center looking for help. Still widely misunderstood, many who find themselves living with a mental illness diagnosis in the family have no insurance to cover their care.

And it’s a lifetime commitment, Tice said.

“This is not a destination,” added Family to Family instructor Mary Ellen Welch, whose husband, David, is the president of the local organization. “It’s a journey.”

NAMI Hernando also hosts several activities, including art classes, family game nights and bowling outings, to help stabilize the stress of dealing with mental illness on a daily basis. “We have a lot of fun,” Welch added.

Designated classrooms and comfortable meeting rooms are made possible through creative efforts by the board, which consists of dedicated members who volunteer their time. “We are lucky,” said Tice. Most communities do not have the bonus of their own facility. But support is needed to keep the doors open.

For more information about NAMI Hernando, visit their website at www.namihernando The Beautiful Mind Center is located at 10554 Spring Hill Drive. They can be reached at (352) 684-0004.