Importance of Support Groups

Today I “graduated” from the NAMI Connection Facilitator Training!  I officially can be a facilitator at my local NAMI meetings.  Why am I so excited about this?

Well, first off, NAMI has been an integral part of my recovery through mental illness.  I first found a NAMI Connection Group when I was in college and began having severe symptoms.  I was in nursing school and had heard of it during my psychiatric clinicals.  I was nervous to go as the meeting was held in the local hospital where I did my clinical and thought some of the nurses might recognize me.  I went anyway, and continued to go.  Meeting others that had similar diagnosis and faced similar problems in their day to day lives with me helped me tremendously.  I was able to relate to them and learn new coping skills.  I still struggled a lot and was in and out of hospitals, but they were there for me.  I had no family in Indiana and they really became like family to me – they were my support system as I did not really have one before joining NAMI.  After moving to Florida, I immediately began attending a NAMI group here.  The closest one to me was about 45 minutes away at first, but I went anyway.  I made such amazing friends.  Another one started closer, about 30 minutes away, so I went to that one too – but I could leave my friends from the other one, so I went to both.  And now a 3rd one is even closer, only 15-20 minutes away.  And I have trained to become a facilitator for that group, as I want to step up and grow within the organization which has helped me so much.

So, what exactly is NAMI?  NAMI is the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.  It is the largest mental health grassroots organization.  It has local affiliates all over the US and Puerto Rico.  There is most likely one in your area – and you can go to http://www.nami.org to find out if there is one.  They run all types of educational programs.  They have support groups for people with mental illness (NAMI Connection), support groups for family members of people with mental illness (Family to Family), educational classes for people with mental illness (Peer to Peer), educational classes for family members (also called Family to Family), educational class for parents of children with mental illness (NAMI Basics), and many other services depending on what your local chapter might also offer.

Support groups are important to our success when we are trying to recover with mental illness, whether it be through NAMI or another organization.  Whether we feel great or bad, attending them helps us.  It helps us focus on how to continue to focus on the positives, how to socialize and not isolate, how to help others which in turn makes us feel good, how to learn new coping skills, how to examine our own needs, and how to express ourselves in healthy ways.  Someone once told me, when you feel like you want to go to a meeting you should go, and when you feel like you don’t want to go to a meeting, you need to go.  They said this because generally, if you don’t want to go, that is when you really need to go – you are isolating or feeling depressed, and being around people and hearing the support they can give is what you most likely need.

I hope that if you are not already involved in a local support group, you find one and check it out.  There are many out there.  A few that I know of are DBSA (Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance), NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) and MHA (Mental Health America.  Depending on your area, these organizations might or might not run groups or another organization might have groups too.

A little bit about….

Today, as I start this, I look back on how far I have come in my own recovery.  I currently have been diagnosed with Bipolar, PTSD, and Borderline Personality disorder.  I have had problems with mental health for as far back as I can remember, but I distinctly remember at the age of 10 feeling the absolute pain of deep pain and feelings of wanting to die.  That pain continued to worsen for the years to come.  In 2011, while in my junior of college, I completely fell apart though.  I had my first of 15 psychiatric hospitalizations that would occur within a two year period and would lead to my commitment in a state hospital.  However, that commitment would be the best thing that ever happened to me.  I was in an intense treatment program, I had an excellent psychiatrist, psychologist, group therapists, recreational therapists, psychiatric technicians, and made a lot of friends who I actually still talk to.  I spent 6 months there and left stable on medications, with a better understanding that I NEEDED to take my medications to feel better.  A concept that I failed to really believe before that.  Since being out of the state hospital, I have been hospitalized twice, however 2 times in one year is a big improvement for me opposed to 15 times in 2 years, so I feel like I have accomplished a lot, especially since both times I reached out for help opposed to being court ordered on a 72 hour hold.

There were many things that have helped me get to where I am today in addition to the professional support and medications.  Most importantly, support groups.  I have been involved in NAMI (The National Alliance for Mental Illness) Connection Support Groups since 2011, in 3 different states, that I have lived in.  Every time I moved I found a group to attend.  It has been integral to my recovery as it helps me connect with others that have similar problems as me and find coping skills, help others, and gain support when I feel I am slipping.  Currently, I am going through training to become a facilitator myself and I am very excited to move on to this role! But I will continue to attend one group a week as a participant to ensure I follow through on getting support for myself as well.

That is just a little bit about myself.

More importantly though – Through this blog, I want to express issues related to mental health.  Different disorders, coping skills, problems with the mental health system, and other issues.