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.