Supporting People and Their Families Living With Mental Illness

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By Olivia Overman

The National Alliance on Mental Illness Prince William is a non-profit 501(c)(3) dedicated to supporting, educating and advocating for people living with mental illness and their families. A grass-roots entity, NAMI PW is one of 14 local affiliates in Virginia providing free programs in their communities.

NAMI PW provides classes, support groups, educational presentations and a helpline for those with mental health conditions, as well as their families, and is powered by volunteers. Meetings take place in community settings such as libraries, schools and churches. The organization uses local hospitals Sentara and Novant, non-profit organizations such as ACTS, community centers, along with Prince William County and public works buildings for meetings. Todos Supermarket, Woodbridge, also provides access to rooms within their facility.

Programs Offered

NAMI PW offers free support through numerous avenues including educational programs, awareness presentations and support groups.

Educational Programs

  • Family to Family – an eight-session course for family and friends of persons living with a mental health condition
  • Peer to Peer – a course for persons who have a mental health condition
  • NAMI Basics – for parents and caregivers of youth 17 years or younger, whether or not the child has a diagnosis
  • Children’s Challenging Behaviors – a class for parents wondering whether their child’s behavior is developmentally typical or a possible early sign of a mental health problem
  • Advanced Parent Leadership Training – allows parents who have navigated the mental health systems for their children to share their earned knowledge and experience with other parents

Presentations

  • Family and Friends – a 90-minute to four-hour overview of mental health conditions and resources
  • Ending the Silence – an anti-stigma presentation in three versions, running approximately 50 minutes to 1.5 hours for middle- and high-school students, parents and school staff
  • In Our Own Voice – a peer presentation focusing on recovery, suitable for general audiences and runs 60 to 90 minutes

Support Groups and Community Education

NAMI Prince William also offers Family Support Groups led by trained family volunteers in English and in Spanish. In the future, the organization is hoping to offer NAMI Connections, a support group for persons with a mental health condition.

NAMI PW joins meetings of DIVERT (a jail diversion program) and works to support the program. It also participates in Crisis Intervention Team training to educate law enforcement, first responders, dispatchers and other county staff on the family impact and perspective when loved ones have a mental health condition.

Multilingual Programs

“NAMI Prince William is unique in Virginia in that we are the only affiliate currently offering programs in Spanish,” said Pat Victorson, program coordinator. “This is thanks to collaboration with the Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Action and grants from the Potomac Health Foundation and Novant/ UVA Health Systems. We also work with the George Mason University sponsored MAP clinic in Manassas Park and with Greater Prince William Health Center. Our online Spanish support group is now offered to Spanish-speakers throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Where to Get Help

Classes are offered throughout Greater Prince William on an alternating basis on the eastern, mid and western sides of the county. All classes are advertised on the NAMI PW and NAMI Virginia websites and are shared with the Greater Prince William Community Services Board, the Prince William County Schools  Parent Resource Center and PWCS Student Services.

NAMI PW also offers a Helpline (703-659-9983) where volunteers provide a listening ear and information about community resources, including NAMI programs, available to the public. Those in need of assistance can also contact them through their website at nami-pw.org.

Volunteers

“Our volunteers are usually recruited among individuals who have attended NAMI educational programs, such as Family to Family,” said Victorson. “All volunteers who teach NAMI programs, offer NAMI presentations or lead support groups have been carefully vetted and receive extensive training, both online and in-person. Teachers and support group facilitators attend three-day trainings offered by NAMI Virginia and must be certified by the state organization in order to offer NAMI programs,” Victorson said.

“Volunteering to teach classes for family members living with mental illness gives me a way to help people live better, happier, healthier. We teach relatives how to understand mental illness, how to cope with it, what treatments are available, how to better communicate and solve problems,” said Sandra Eichorn, Family to Family teacher.

As NAMI is a national organization, all volunteers are trained to the same standard, ensuring everyone attending a NAMI program or group anywhere in the country receives the same, high-quality experience and education.

German G., a young-adult volunteer for Ending the Silence explained why he became a volunteer with NAMI, “I think that this program is doing a good thing in raising awareness about mental health in the community. Many times when people interact with mental health patients, they have a stereotype in their heads about the person living with mental health problems. We are not ‘just’ our illness.”

The COVID-19 Crisis

The current pandemic is difficult for everyone but, in particular, for those experiencing a mental health condition. NAMI PW is moving its support groups, educational programs and awareness presentations to a virtual platform and striving to meet the challenge to provide the support the community needs.

Visit nami-pw.org to learn more.

Olivia Overman ([email protected]) is a freelance writer for both online and print organizations. She earned a M.A. in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University, Washington, D.C.

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