May We Introduce You To: St. Cloud NAMI Family Support Group & Community Classes
by Lee Gehrls R&D Coordinator (Volunteer)
Support groups can be an effective way to recharge your batteries because you are in a nurturing environment with people who are living with many of the same challenges that come from having ADHD and other co-existing conditions.
A support group also provides you with an exchange of ideas, educational information, and a way to find out about local support services, healthcare and mental health care providers.
This month we are visiting with Cecilia (Cecil) Huston who is the facilitator for our community’s St. Cloud NAMI Family Support Group. I would like to thank her for taking the time to answer important questions on NAMI and the local support group.
Q&A With Cecil Huston of NAMI St. Cloud
Lee: Can you tell us a bit about NAMI and the support group?
Cecil: Our Family Support Group is for parents, caregivers, friends, or loved ones of a person who is dealing with a mental illness. These folks need a place to go for support with others who understand their struggles, a safe place to ask questions, talk about their feelings, and seek information about resources. Dealing with a family member who has a mental illness can be very isolating, we need to know we are not alone.
Lee: You have been associated with the support group for a long time. What do you think are the benefits of attending support group meetings?
Cecil: I first was exposed to support groups after attending an educational program for parents and caregivers of a person with a mental illness, at the time called “Visions for Tomorrow”. (The class is now called “Family to Family” and is still offered by NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness. A great and enlightening experience, I highly recommend it!)
I started attending and getting involved with a support group after that called Parent Voices, most of the attendees had children that were still minors. I was seeking out more information on how to help my daughter, who was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age. I found that talking to others who were going through similar things was educational, refreshing and a relief from trying to discuss her mental health with those who either didn’t believe ADHD was “real”, or thought it was my fault for parenting wrong somehow, or who just didn’t understand what it was like (and didn’t really want to know).
We talked about dealing with IEPs, schools, medications, providers, special education, stigma, and many other things. Having a mix of folks whose children varied in ages was beneficial, because those with older kids could share their experiences and progress in the mental health “system”, offering hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. Learning some tips and resources from those further along on the journey was extremely helpful.
Parent Voices was for a time part of the STARS network, that was funded by a grant given to CMMHC. We were the parent involvement segment of that program and helped in working toward a goal of connecting the different realms of the children’s mental health system. When the grant was done, we wanted to be affiliated with a more permanent organization to help us get exposure and share resources. We joined with NAMI St. Cloud Area as the children’s mental health arm of the organization, who at the time mostly worked with adult mental illness issues and groups.
A couple years ago the Parent Voices support group attendance was dwindling, as I was facilitating pretty much on my own. To hold a support group for parents of younger children it helps to have some sort of childcare available, and I was not able to coordinate that. So, the facilitator of the Family Support group and I combined forces, since many of the same issues applied to both children and adults with a mental illness. We have advertised that we welcome family members of those folks with a mental illness from any age group.
It helps to talk to others who have similar experiences in dealing with the challenges of trying to help someone who may or may not be cooperative in trying to seek help. Some issues discussed are housing, employment, and how to deal with providers and hospitalizations. It can be a stressful, rollercoaster journey, and those who want to help their loved one can be under a great deal of stress. This is a safe place where they can talk about those things.
Lee: What would I have to do if I wanted to attend a support group meeting? Can you describe how a meeting works?
Cecil: Our support group meetings are free and open to the public! We meet on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month, from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM, at 722 33rd Ave North, in the Stand Down Building (across from the old Electrolux building, in the old Jeff’s Tattoo building). Parking is available right next to the building, and entrance is a handicapped accessible ramp door around the left back-side of the building.
PLEASE NOTE! Due to increased restrictions and risks of in-person meetings, we will be meeting via Zoom after December 1st 2020. Please visit our Family Support page on the NAMI St. Cloud website for instructions on how to join a Zoom meeting. (It also covers those who want to just call in via phone.) We will post new information once we are able to resume in-person meetings.
Our meetings are informal. We start the meeting by going over our meeting agenda, guidelines, and principles of support. Then we go around and summarize who we are, who our loved one is that we are there to discuss, and a brief summary of their diagnosis, as a way of introduction. Then we get into the group discussion, where the floor is open to whoever wants to talk. That is where we get into the heart of the issues the attendees want to discuss. If there is ever a time an attendee wants to pass on sharing, that is always respected.
Two important things to remember, that are part of our guidelines:
- Confidentiality is expected, please do not discuss what others have shared outside the meeting.
- Please be respectful of others need to talk, we want to make sure that everyone feels heard.
A couple other important points:
- This is a meeting for the family/friends of the person with the mental illness, it is NOT a peer support group for that person. We would prefer they not attend with you, as that can hinder your ability to speak freely about your concerns.
- We will not have all the answers, the facilitators are not trained mental health professionals. We are like you, someone who has a family member or friend they want to help. We are here to offer support.
Lee: What other support services does St. Cloud NAMI offer? What do you see as the special needs of these unique families?
Cecil: During these troubled times of COVID restrictions, many of our events and outreach occasions have been cancelled, unfortunately. But with luck we will resume these events next year.
We are planning our 2021 Mental Health Walk at Lake George on Saturday, May 15th. And we are planning on having our Fall Mental Health Conference for 2021 on Friday, October 1st at Calvary Community Church. Those are our two main events, but we also attend many sponsored by others with resource tables of literature and information.
We hope to sponsor more educational events in the coming year (Post COVID). Please watch our website namistcloud.com, and the NAMI Minnesota website, namimn.org for more information on local events and many other resources.
As for special needs of families dealing with a mental illness, my personal belief is that support, education, and advocacy are the three most important.
Knowing that you are NOT alone, that there is hope for a better future, and others have traveled this road and survived.
ESPECIALLY important for understanding what is going on behind the mental illness, what to expect, and what can be done to help. It is a biological illness, not a personality defect. It needs to be treated as any other biological illness.
Knowing that others have your back, and NAMI works hard to get laws changed that cause problems for those trying to help their family members and those who are dealing with mental illness.
Lee: What is the most important take away you want folks to remember about NAMI, the support group, and the community classes?
Cecil: We are here for you. We know that dealing with mental health issues is scary, frustrating, and isolating for all concerned. While we cannot offer direct counseling or intervention, and we won’t have all the answers, we can do our best to offer support, education, and advocacy.
NAMI – National organization
For information regarding online support groups provided by NAMI Minnesota
NAMI St. Cloud Area
Go to the Menu on the left side of the Home page and scroll down to Support Groups. For questions or more information you may contact the local family support group at email@example.com
[Please Note: Due to Covid-19 you can go to the support group website for the new protocols that are in place for each meeting.]
Additional reading on support groups:
ADDitude Magazine – Your ADD Life: ADHD Support Groups by Edward Hallowell, M.D., updated 10/08/2019
ADDitude Magazine – No Judgment: No Guilt. Just ADHD Support and Understanding by Michele Novontni, Ph.D., 08/03/2017
Mayo Clinic, Healthy Lifestyle – Stress Management
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