NAMI-DAC helping people understand mental illness

By Andi Murphy / amurphy@lcsun-news.com

Posted: 02/15/2012 01:00:00 AM MST

NAMI-DAC updated some information in this article in 2016 to reflect current NAMI-DAC leaders and classes.

LAS CRUCES — When Becky Beckett’s daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1994, the doctor told her to do two things: One, read a book called, “Surviving Schizophrenia,” and two, find “NAMI,” she said.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness changed her life and her perspective on mental illness.

“It’s about knowing what the illnesses are and understanding what’s going on in the mind of their family member,” Beckett said about Family-to-Family, a 12-week class offered through NAMI, a nonprofit organization the helps families with mentally ill relatives.

Family-to-Family

In the Family-to-Family classes, participants will learn about mental illnesses — with some biology on the brain, up-to-date information on medications and research and how to handle crises or relapses. They will also learn from their classmates, all of whom have been touched by mental illness in some way. A new session of classes starts on Monday, and there is still time to sign up.

In the class, [Family-to-Family instructors], will also cover coping with the stress and emotional overload family members can experience with a relative who has a mental illness.

“We’re not therapists,” Beckett said. “We’re not doctors.”

Although teachers like Beckett are trained, their job as volunteers is not professional help, and shouldn’t be considered as such. They offer education on what is going on medically and what might be going on inside the minds of those who are mentally ill. They also offer information on local services and programs, she said.

NAMI

NAMI is the largest national nonprofit organization dedicated to bettering the lives of those with mental illness and their families. The organization advocates for better access to services, treatment and research. They work to spread awareness and offer several programs and activities to support their mission, according to nami.org.

“It’s not as well-known as it should be,” said Lyn Pearson, NAMI member [and Family-to-Family instructor].

Pearson and her husband, Haney, are both Family-to-Family instructors. Attending the class several years ago was very beneficial to them.

“It’s no big effort to get trained and give back to the organization,” Haney Pearson said.

“I’m doing it because I feel it’s very important,” Lyn Pearson said.

Despite significant strides forward, people with mental illness and their families still have to deal with stigmas. Many people still don’t understand mental illness fully. In Hollywood and dramatic stories, people with mental illness have been portrayed as violent individuals who hallucinate and hear voices.

Beckett’s daughter had a college instructor who actually took a step away from her when she told him that she has schizophrenia. She would never think of kicking a dog, let alone being violent with a human, Beckett said.

Some people might think Pearson’s son, Micah, hears voices because he has bipolar disorder. At the worst of his times, Pearson only becomes moody.

Micah Pearson

“Bipolar disorder is not who I am,” Pearson, now 35, said. “It’s part of who I am.”

He was diagnosed with bipolar type 1 disorder when he was 19 years old.

“Mom and dad didn’t really know what was going on,” Pearson said about life before diagnosis. “They didn’t know how to deal with it.”

Pearson attended a National Alliance on Mental Illness Peer-to-Peer class in Washington D.C. There, he met other people who have mental illness and others who were prescribed lithium, a drug that turned him, and a few others, into “zombies” — which is another stigma people with mental illness have to deal with. In this class, he learned about different drugs and how patients can talk to their doctors if certain prescriptions don’t work or have negative side effects.

He also learned how to keep up with his medications, develop routines and, if things take a turn for the worse, how to pick himself up and ask for help, he said.

NAMI’s Peer-to-Peer class had a very big impact on him and his parents, who were still stuck in a phase of not knowing much about anything at the time.

Pearson told his parents, Lyn and Haney, about the class he attended. They found out that NAMI also offers a class for them, Family-to-Family.

“There has been a distinct change,” Pearson said about his parent’s then-new attitude toward him.

Pearson is a highly functional person who has been employed as a manager of information technology at the Washington Post and El Tiempo Latino for several years. Of course, he is a lot better off than some people with severe mental illnesses, he said.

Since 2014, Micah Pearson has been leading the NAMI Connections Support Group in Las Cruces. NAMI officials are looking are also looking into getting a trained Spanish teacher for the Family-to-Family class.

Andi Murphy can be reached at (575) 541-5453.

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