Helping the Mentally Ill
by Jude Roberts

The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) is one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the United States, with self-help, support, and advocacy groups in every state, including Puerto Rico. Created in 1979, NAMI is completely dedicated to the elimination of all mental illness, as well as to the improvement of living standards for caregivers and persons affected by these diseases. NAMI offers important advice and help for those with some of the most difficult of disorders, such as:  schizophrenia; schizoaffective disorder; bipolar disorder; major depressive disorder; obsessive-compulsive disorder; panic and other anxiety disorders; autism and pervasive developmental disorders; attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; and other severe, persistent mental illnesses affecting the brain.

With over 15 million Americans living with severe mental illness, NAMI’s work has only just begun, making sure that the local affiliates and state organizations help to identify and work on the most important mental health issues for their particular state or community. Through careful governing, compassion and cultivation from the experiences of family caregivers and those suffering from mental illness, a wide-range of educational and training programs have been created in order to service anyone who has a mental illness.


The NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program is a free, 12-week course for family caregivers of individuals with severe brain disorders (mental illnesses). The course is taught by trained family members. All instruction and course materials are free for class participants. The course discusses the clinical treatment of these illnesses and teaches the knowledge and skills that family members need in order to cope more effectively. Family-to-Family classes are offered in hundreds of communities across the country, in two Canadian provinces, Puerto Rico and Mexico.


Peer-to-Peer is a unique, educational program for people with serious mental illness interested in establishing and maintaining their wellness and recovery. Peer-to-Peer consists of nine, two-hour courses taught by a team of three trained “mentors” who are personally experienced at successfully living with mental illness. The mentors are educated in weekend-long training sessions, then they are given teaching manuals, along with a paid stipend for each course they teach.

Course attendees are provided with a binder of hand-out materials, as well as useful and important resources: an advanced plan and directive for the future; a relapse prevention plan which helps to identify the feelings, thoughts, behavior or events that may be the early warning signs of an impending relapse; how to organize for an intervention; mental and emotional exercises that help keep an individual focused and thinking calmly and clearly; and coping skills for how to work with providers and the general public.

Hearts & Mind

This new program concentrates on the health risks associated with mental illness. The purpose of the program is to raise awareness and provide information regarding: diabetes; diet; exercise; smoking; and substance abuse. Along with basic information about addictions, recovery, stigma and treatment, they also offer information on diabetes and sleep apnea, and tips for a healthy diet, including a shopping list template, recipes, and a food diary. Type ll Diabetes has become a particular concern, since research has begun to question the link between some psychiatric medications and the disease.


Colonial Place Three
2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22201-3042
Main: (703) 524-7600
Fax: (703) 524-9094
Member Services: (800) 950-NAMI (6264)

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