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The Mike Fitzpatick Interview

Caregiver Thought Leader Interview
Mike Fitzpatick, Executive Director
National Alliance on Mental Illness

Gary Barg: Can you tell me about the work of NAMI?

Mike Fitzpatrick: NAMI is the largest grassroots organization in the United States that pays attention to serious mental illness. We work on Capitol Hill and all the state capitals trying to create a more effective mental health system. We have seven free education programs we offer around the country. And, certainly, part of our role is to educate the general public.

Gary Barg: As someone with a loved one who was living with schizophrenia, I am very interested in learning about NAMIís work with schizophrenic caregivers. Can you detail your schizophrenia outreach?

Mike Fitzpatrick: That is really where NAMI came from 34 years ago. Family-to-Family is a free 12-week course that focuses on the needs of our families with schizophrenia and serious mental illness. The course really makes a difference and allows the family to better understand the illness. What the best practices are for treatment. Where do you go for support? What you should expect. And most importantly, as you know for a family caregiver, how do you take care of yourself? Then lastly, what services are available in the community, what those services do and what your expectations should be.

Gary Barg: It really pays to be with your fellow family caregivers going through schizophrenia care, as well. Not to isolate yourself.

Mike Fitzpatrick: Absolutely. You have hit it right on the head. That is why our support groups are so important. That is why our education programs are so important. At the end of the course, people tend to form their own support group and informally go forward and provide each other with support. The whole issue is that you are not alone.

Gary Barg: What is the first thing we should do once we learn that a loved one is living with mental illness?

Mike Fitzpatrick: Early intervention is so important. Too often people tell us that it took years before they really understood what was happening or where to go for the most effective services. Most people, unless you have experienced mental illness in your family in the past, will go to their general practitioner. Or, even to their faith community to try to get a better understanding of what is going on. That is why we spend a lot of time working within the faith communities to try to have them understand what mental illness is and what their role is. People tend not to get their information from brochures anymore. But they tend to reach out into the Internet to get information.

Gary Barg: What would be the one most important piece of information you would like to leave with family caregivers?

Mike Fitzpatrick: Reach out to other people. You are not alone. There is support and people who have lived through your experience who would be tremendously helpful to you. That people can recover from mental illness. It does not mean people are cured. But people can recover and regain at least a significant portion of their life back. There is hope.