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Claremont Group Empowers Families of People With Mental Illness



Valley News Correspondent
Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Claremont — Few chronic health conditions are as isolating and stigmatized as mental illness, not just for the patient but for family members as well. Because of that, a support group in Claremont aims to provide information and support to the family members and close friends of people with mental illness.

The NAMI Family Support Group, hosted through the National Alliance on Mental Illness, meets the first Thursday of each month from 6-7:30 p.m. at Valley Regional Hospital, 243 Elm St. in Claremont. The next meeting is on Thursday.

“One person’s mental illness can affect the whole family,” said Pat Whitney, who facilitates the group along with Jean Fahey.

At the group, family members and friends can share their anger, frustration and grief, and learn about resources and coping strategies that have worked for other families coping with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. This can help family members reclaim their lives, even if their ill relative is not in treatment.

“Our meetings are important because they provide a safe place to talk about their struggles, and the difficulties of trying to help their loved ones who often are unwilling or unable to accept help,” Fahey said. “They share their experiences with others who understand what they are going through.”

The support group is especially important because many people are not comfortable talking about a relative’s mental illness with their everyday support networks, Fahey said.

“There is such a stigma surrounding mental illness that people are reluctant to reach out for help or support from co-workers or even their closest friends,” she said. “In NAMI support groups, we listen, we empathize, and we also laugh.”

Although the group does not focus on substance abuse, it is appropriate for people whose loved ones are self-medicating to cope with an underlying mental health condition.

Whitney points out that at the group family members discuss ways to care for themselves and establish healthy relationships with their ill loved one, without trying to solve the issue of the illness.

“This NAMI support group deals with the relationships of people with mental illness. Mental illness is an illness of relationships,” she said. “The group concentrates on how other family members can cope with and support the person with mental illness. We learn how to take care of ourselves, first, because we are the only people we can change. We share what works and what doesn’t and we each try to define the line between helping and enabling our family members, which is different in every relationship.”

Many people find the group when their loved one is in a crisis, but Whitney said that it is also important for people who have a loved one in recovery to share their stories, too.

“The group welcomes family members in all stages of coping — from crisis to denial, learning to cope to recovery,” she said. “Many come during a traumatic event or while their family member is struggling, but it’s also good to drop in when things are going well, to share with the group that things can get better and life can be more stable.”

Anyone interested in attending the NAMI Family Support Group can drop by on Thursday. Attendees should enter through the hospital’s emergency entrance and ask for the NAMI meeting. For more information contact Whitney at 603-763-5054 or patwhitney00@gmail.com. Information is also available at www.naminh.org or by calling Liz Hodgkins at NAMI NH at 603-225-5359 ext. 322.