Mental health group looks to expand services

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A national mental health advocacy organization is looking toextend its support services to Lincoln County.

Sandra Caron, the regional coordinator for the Mississippichapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, will be hostingtwo presentations to raise mental illness awareness at the LincolnCounty-Brookhaven Government Complex at an undetermined date.Details for the meeting are still being worked out between countyand NIMA officials.

In the presentation entitled “In Our Own Voice,” Caron – herselfa mental patient – and an associate will show a film on mentalillness and speak from experience about support for affected familymembers. Major mental illnesses planned for discussion includeschizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, post traumatic stresssyndrome and several other disorders.

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After the presentation, the NIMA officials will fieldquestions.

“The purpose of the presentation is so that people willunderstand what mental illness is – that it’s a challenge, but it’smanageable,” Caron said. “It helps open people’s eyes about mentalillness and what we go through – what we have to deal with on adaily basis and how we’ve managed to recover and maintain thatrecovery.”

Caron said the end goal of the presentation is to lay thegroundwork for the establishment of a local support group formental patients and their families.

“The more awareness that’s brought out, the more people willfreely go get help,” she said. “It’s always been one of thosethings were we just don’t talk about it because of a lack ofeducation on our part.”

NAMI does not conduct group therapy, but group support. NAMIMississippi Executive State Director Wendy Mahoney said mentalpatients and their families gain a better understanding of theirown situations by hearing other mental patients talk openly abouttheir experiences.

“If someone tells you about cancer it’s one thing, but it’sdifferent to hear it from a cancer survivor,” she explained. “It’sthe same thing with mental illness or any other disorder. Hearingit first hand is much more powerful than anything. It will reducethe stigma when you see that person functional and looking justlike you.”

While NAMI – which operates more than 1,200 support groups inevery state and some U.S. territories – has a strong presence inMississippi metro areas like Jackson, Meridian and Hattiesburg, itis looking to expand into areas with little to no support likeLincoln County.

“Lincoln County is no different than any other county in thestate or nation – it’s a national epidemic,” she said. “As a whole,we just don’t deal with the issue. The information is not out thereas effectively as it needs to be.”

Mahoney said Lincoln County would be a good place to start aNAMI support group because of its existing resources – theBrookhaven Crisis Intervention Center and the Mississippi JuvenileRehabilitation Facility – and the personnel associated with thoseinstitutions.

Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop – whose officeprocesses all mental commitments in the county – was supportive ofthe formation of a NAMI group in the county.

“There’s a lot of people out there who are family members ofmentally ill patients who would love to be able to talk to somebodywho has gone through it and gain a little perspective,” he said.”There’s mental illness everywhere. It’s certainly worth our timeand effort to host the initial meeting at the courthouse.”

For more information about the presentation or the formation ofa support group, interested people may contact the NAMI stateoffice at 601-899-9058.