Mental Health Forum Provides Online Resource for Families

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Secure, moderated and free site connects professionals, allies and consumers.

It was really good to connect with other family members going through similar situations, knowing we weren't alone and didn't have to plow new ground.

Joanne Kelly’s son began showing symptoms of mental illness when he was just a boy. But like so many parents, she was uneducated.

She took him to a pediatrician, suspecting that he was hyperactive. The doctor disagreed, saying that the boy was simply “a sparkler.”

“I had no clue. I only had theories about what was going on,” says Kelly, of Boulder. “I just thought ‘No, the doctor’s right.’”

With her son approaching age 40, Kelly is now as educated about mental illness as any parent can be. She was active for many years with the Colorado chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and helped start Colorado’s Interfaith Network for the Mentally Ill.

“It was really good to connect with other family members going through similar situations, knowing we weren’t alone and didn’t have to plow new ground,” she says.

Now connecting with people in similar situations, therapists, doctors and others with experience and knowledge about mental health is easier than ever with the launch of the Mental Health Forum, a secure, moderated, free online site designed to connect family members and friends of people with mental illness.

“This is a resource to serve families anywhere,” says Dr. Richard Warner, who helped create the forum.

The forum is moderated by a team of mental health professionals, psychiatrists, family members and people who have experienced mental illness, all of whom have received extensive training on their role as facilitators. The forum is co-administered by someone who has experienced serious mental illness herself and by a skilled mental health professional.

The site contains resources, FAQs, and opportunities to connect with other families, mental-health consumers, psychiatrists and other mental-health professionals. "A year-long pilot of the program demonstrated its value to people seeking resources and support," Warner says.

In particular, the forum will provide an opportunity for families and friends of people with mental illness who may live in outlying areas of the state where there may be few other sources of support.

“We want to market it all across Colorado and keep building that critical mass. We want to make it busy,” Warner says.

At a time when the media seems to focus on mental health only in the wake of a tragedy — all too often, that focus is unwarranted, inaccurate or both — families need access to accurate, supportive information more than ever.

Margaret, a Boulder woman, felt tremendously guilty after she finally decided to disengage from her sister, who had schizophrenia. After a lifetime of exhausting efforts to help her — taking her to medical appointments or hospitals, providing material support — Margaret simply didn’t know what else to do.

“Eventually, I realized I had to take care of myself,” Margaret says. “It was very sad and very hard. I think any kind of resource would have been helpful to us.”

The new site is endorsed by NAMI Colorado.

“The board voted unanimously to support it. We think it will be very helpful for people who can’t get to support groups because of distance, work, time or whatever it is. We are very excited about it,” says Phoebe Norton, treasurer for NAMI Colorado, who also has trained as a facilitator for the Mental Health Forum site.

WHAT: The Mental Health Forum, an online resource for families and friends of people with serious mental illness
WHEN: The forum is available online now
CONTACT: Dr. Richard Warner, 303-549-5921; Maureen Makar-Olson

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Clay Evans

Dr. Richard Warner
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