My Turn: Classes for family of mentally ill provide insight and support

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2008

Being an advocate for the mentally ill will often take you on an arduous journey.

In a recent My Turn article by Dan Austin, he provided the reader with insight into the plight of his friend "Big Billy," who suffers from chronic mental illness. The purpose of the article was to present the need for a mental health court in Juneau. The lack of a mental health court is but one facet of the growing needs for the mentally ill.

Hopefully, the dialogue for the mental health court will open further discussions on the growing needs for the chronic mentally ill by those in positions to make positive changes. Fortunately, the long journey for Billy has a positive outcome. If you, the reader, find yourself in a long, complicated journey of advocating for a loved one suffering mental illness and trying to do it alone, you are the audience for my column.

Advocating for our grandson who also is a felon suffering a chronic mental illness, has taken his grandparents on a four-year journey. We are still searching for a positive outcome.

Our grandson's mental problems started around the time he turned 18. He had a severe mental break in 2004 and was hospitalized in Idaho for seven months. We brought him back to Juneau to live with us in August a completely different young man. He was very subdued and had gained 50 pounds due to his medications. After coming home, our grandson received outpatient services from JAMHI.

As much as we wanted to help him, we discovered that we were not capable of controlling his behavior. Working with JAMHI, we moved him into JAMHI housing. Before they were able to take him to the hospital for a psychological evaluation, he stole a car. Our journey has seen our grandson caught in the revolving door of being incarcerated, placed in inadequate housing, not receiving adequate treatment, violating his probation, being placed back in jail. Our journey has been filled with frustration, anger, expense, hope, prayers. If you are experiencing a similar journey advocating for a loved one, I urge you to take advantage of the Family-to-Family classes sponsored by NAMI.

His grandmother attended the Family-to-Family classes and she will be forever grateful for the insight into the world of mental illness and the support of friends experiencing the same journey. Most important it has given us the courage and impetus to advocate, advocate, advocate.

The NAMI Juneau winter/spring Family to Family class orientation meeting will be at 6 p.m. Thursday at Northern Light United Church, 400 West 11th St. The meeting will be held in SKUSE Room - the ground-floor conference room. The 12-week class will begin the following week at times most convenient with the class participants and the Northern Light United Church schedule.

If you have any questions, contact Aaron Hozid, Executive Director NAMI Juneau, at 463-4251.

• Patrick Leamer is a Juneau resident.

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