Group raises awareness of mental illness
By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
September 29, 2002
For the 19th straight year, the first full week of October will be designated as Mental Illness Awareness Week an event important to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
The group hopes to increase its local and statewide presence. It also is involved in upcoming events to better inform the public about the organization and mental health issues.
Teri Brister, state education director of NAMI, and Patricia Battle, a local member of the organization, discussed those and other issues last week with The Meridian Star editorial board.
The Meridian Star: What is the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and what is its primary goals?
Teri Brister: The national organization started in the 1980s in Wisconsin by a group of mothers of adult children who were mentally ill. They got together to support each other. There is now an Alliance for the Mentally Ill in each state.
We're kind of like the heart association or the lung association except we deal with central nervous system brain disorders.
We have 10 affiliates in the state that are groups like the one in Meridian that meets at least monthly with family members of people who have mental illnesses.
We make sure they have access to the support, information and resources they need to make sure their loved ones get the services they need.
The Star: Does NAMI draw a distinction between mental illnesses?
Brister: NAMI believes all mental illnesses are physical in nature. I have a mental health background, I've worked in the mental health service for 20 years and I feel like (Sigmund) Freud set us back.
As far back as Socrates and Hippocrates, it was believed mental illness was physical and something wrong with our brain. Freud decided it was all about our mothers and we quit looking at the physical aspects until the last 15 to 20 years.
NAMI is trying to make people aware that whether it is because of a chemical imbalance or a hereditary gene, regardless of what the nature of the illness is, there is a physiological basis.
The more we learn about the illnesses, the more we know that whether it's bipolar, schizophrenia or obsessive compulsive disorder, they are syndromes. One may have inherited the predisposition for bipolar disorder, but whether or not that person develops it has a lot to do with the lifestyle they choose to lead, the way they were brought up and the environment they live in.
The Star: What is the most common form of mental illness?
Patricia Battle: Depression is probably the one most talked about, the one that is most socially accepted and has the least stigma associated with it.
Brister: When we look at incidence rates, it's about one in 100 who are likely to have schizophrenia, probably five out of 100 who have a bipolar disorder and about 15 to 20 out of 100 who have some type of depression at any given time in the United states.
The Star: What specifically is NAMI's involvement with groups?
Battle: "Family-to-Family" and "Visions for Tomorrow" are two education programs we have. With "Family-to-Family," we talk about the biology of the brain, what an individual with mental illness is going through and we talk about medications. The "Visions for Tomorrow" program has the same background for care givers of children with brain disorders.
Brister: We're about the family members. Typically where groups get hooked up with NAMI is when they've run into brick walls and they've gotten doors shut in their face either by providers, doctors, mental health systems or hospitals, or they've done everything they know to do and they still feel like they are pulling their hair out and not helping their person get any better. We have doctors who refer family members.
We're not about treatment. We're about giving the family members the education and support they need to make sure their family member gets the care he or she needs. With the business we are going through right now with Medicare in our state, we know there is going to be a drug medication formula.
NAMI believes antipsychotic medications should not be included in the medication formula because each individual is so different. It may be that Haldol, which is as old as the hills and we try not to use anymore because of the side-effects, is a lot cheaper than some of the new ones like Zyprexa, Risperdal and Geodon.
What we don't want is for the state to decide if you are on Medicaid the only drug you can have is Haldol if you have schizophrenia.
The Star: Tell us some success stories.
Battle: There is a person in my affiliate group who is an advocate, she is running a support group and she has a mental illness. She is not in the work force, but she is out there helping others with mental illness learn how to cope with their illness. At this point she is able to accept her mental illness. That's the big thing, accepting the mental illness then moving forward and getting out of denial.
Brister: A mother in a South Mississippi town who thought she was all by herself called the NAMI office to find out what was available in her area and she found nothing. So she came to training to be a teacher and has now taught several classes back-to-back in her community.
She filed papers this week to develop a NAMI chapter in her community and she has become a state trainer in our "Visions" program and doesn't feel helpless about dealing with her son's bipolar disorder anymore. He's still bipolar. He's doing well. He's not doing any better or any worse than he was two years ago, but she feels empowered.
That's what I think of in terms of success stories those families who get some semblance of their lives back. Regardless of the illness, it's very much like alcoholism in that for every person who has a mental illness, you have at least 20 other people around them who are affected by it.