Families Can Help Each Other Cope with Major Mental Illness, Research Shows

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Nationally known researcher Dr. Lisa Dixon of the University of Maryland will discuss her newly published research on the NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program at the annual meeting of NAMI Colorado, the Colorado branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

One in four families in the United States is touched by major mental illness, and the experience can often be stressful and isolating for families struggling to cope. According to new research to be presented in a free public talk, family-to-family education, led by family members themselves, helps participants to cope, increases their empowerment, reduces stress, and improves problem-solving.

Nationally known researcher Dr. Lisa Dixon of the University of Maryland will discuss her newly published research on Saturday September 10 at the annual meeting of NAMI Colorado, the Colorado branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The talk is the keynote for the annual meeting of NAMI Colorado, and is being sponsored by Colorado Recovery, a treatment program in Boulder for major mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression.

“Professionals have limited contact with families,” Dixon comments, ”leaving them with unmet needs.” Richard Warner, director of Colorado Recovery, adds, “Family members can get very frustrated when professionals cite confidentially laws as a reason not to talk to them.”

The focus of Dr. Lisa Dixon’s research is the NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program, a 12-week course of two- to three-hour sessions. NAMI’s classes address schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, panic disorder, PTSD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. During the course, family members receive information ranging from treatment options and medications to ways to be effective and supportive of their mentally ill family member. But perhaps most important, they find a place where they can share experiences and support each other.

Dixon’s research shows that family-to-family education

  •     improves empowerment, knowledge and emotion-focused coping of family members
  •     reduces the anxiety and possibly depression experienced by family members and
  •     improves the functioning of family members with respect to problem solving skills

The benefits were still apparent after six months.

According to Alan Johnson, who has led family educations sessions for NAMI-Boulder, “Because of the stigma of mental illness people often don’t have a place where they can be open. When they stop living in silence, they find courage, affirmation, and confidence.”

Dr. Dixon’s talk, “Expanding the Evidence for Family Peer Support,” will take place at 9 a.m. at the Community College of Aurora, 16000 E Centre Tech Parkway in Aurora. It is free and open to the public. Her research “Outcomes of a Randomized Study of a Peer-Taught Family-to-Family Education Program for Mental Illness,” was published in the June issue of Psychiatric Services.

NAMI Colorado provides advocacy, education, and support for individuals of all ages and families impacted by serious mental illness, including psychotic disorders, major mood disorders, and major anxiety disorders. http://www.namicolorado.org

Colorado Recovery treats adults with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or other serious mental illness, at a community-based residence in Boulder, and with intensive outpatient programs and rehabilitation services.http://www.coloradorecovery.com.

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Lacey Berumen

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