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NAMI Yakima offers free course to help families support loved ones with mental illness

Yakima's chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness is offering a free 12-week course for family members and caregivers to learn how they can better support their loved one suffering from mental illness. The class provides information on treatment, recovery, medications and different mental health conditions.

Mary Stephenson, one of the volunteers and teachers of the class, said it's a very thorough course. 

"Tonight they'll start with the introduction to family education and general information. Then we'll go through the different mental health conditions, talk about brain biology, the causes of brain disorders, we have a problem solving workshop," said Stephenson. "We do a medication review, communication skills, self-care because we need to take care of ourselves in order to be there for our loved ones, looking at recovery and advocacy."

Courses are taught by volunteers who have gone through the class themselves, and have been trained to teach the course. NAMI, the national nonprofit providing support, eduction and advocacy for mental illness, created the course material. 

"People with a mental health condition get help. They go to therapists, they have doctors that prescribe medication," said Stephenson. "But the real caregiver, the family members are kind of left in the dark often and don't have a clue about what to do."

The class is taught each Thursday from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Comprehensive Health Care at 402 S. Fourth Ave. in Yakima, and runs through Dec. 19. They'll offer another course in the spring. 

"It's really important to know you're not alone in this. We become so immersed in dealing with the illness, and we don't know where to go for resources. We don't know that there are people who can help us to navigate the mental health system," said Stephenson. "So having people that have kind of been there and done that can be really, really helpful."

So far 13 people have signed up, but Stephenson said they're welcoming more to join. People interested can call NAMI Yakima at  509-453-8229 to sign up. 

"I really hope that people understand that mental illness is not anybody's fault. That it's a biological thing and that there are resources and treatments for it, and people can recover," said Stephenson. 

NAMI Yakima also offers a family support group that meets weekly. 

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