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National Alliance on Mental Illness expands mental health programs to Teller County

By: Melissa Stewart
Pikes Peak Courier

Starting next month, a Colorado Springs nonprofit is expanding its mental health services to Teller County.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a nationwide organization that has been in southern Colorado for more than 35 years. The Colorado Springs affiliate started as a support group created by two mothers who had sons living with mental illness.

According to NAMI Colorado Springs Program and Volunteer Manager Lynn Shull, one in every five American adults will experience some sort of mental illness in a year. Twenty percent of children ages 13 to 18 live with a mental illness, and half of all chronic mental illnesses begin by the age of 14. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for youth ages 10 to 24. Despite such staggering numbers, Shull said many dealing with mental illness are unaware of how widespread it is.

“The biggest thing about mental illness is that most families feel alone, and they feel like they’ve been living in secrecy, or that they are in their own world for so long that they don’t realize that there is help,” Shull said, adding that positive changes start with education. “So when you get into NAMI you get into a group of other families who are experiencing (similar) things and you realize you’re not alone. One of NAMI’s missions is to strengthen families and to help them be able to navigate the mental health system.”

One of NAMI’s most popular courses is the “Family-to-Family” program, a 12-week-long, peer-led education program for families of a person living with mental illness. NAMI Colorado Springs typically offers two Family-to-Family programs every quarter. This quarter, NAMI is offering additional classes in Teller County, Monument and a class in southeastern Colorado Springs.

“We’re trying to promote the Family-to-Family program … for families with a loved one living with mental illness,” Shull said. “We haven’t offered it in Teller County for over (11) years now, so we’re wanting to reach out to this community if they need this course.”

The Teller County class is a weekly, two-and-a-half-hour, classroom-based course that will be held on Tuesday nights from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., starting Feb. 26. Class locations will be released to registrants after a brief telephone screening.

Class sizes are typically limited to 25 people, but new class cycles will be offered in Colorado Springs in the summer and fall. Summer and fall classes in Monument, Teller County, and southeastern Colorado will be based on attendance this quarter, need in the area, and on volunteer support, Shull said.

“It’s a very structured education program,” Shull said. “They get curriculum and each week we go over a new chapter. Each week they learn coping skills, (they) get an education on what the mental illnesses are like, how the brain works, (and) how medication plays into that. We learn communication skills, problem-solving skills, (and) how to take care of ourselves.”

Classes are free and taught by trained volunteers, often volunteers who initially came to NAMI as family members of a person living with mental illness to find support and decided to share what they learned with others. Volunteers, typically family members of people with mental illnesses, are specially trained to teach the class during a three-day training program.

“It’s very easy to attract volunteers to NAMI because everybody comes to NAMI to back to give back from what they got from NAMI,” Shull said, adding that Colorado Springs was the largest Colorado-based affiliate of the nation-wide alliance, adding that NAMI Colorado Springs has over 100 volunteers. “Most of our volunteers come from taking classes or going to our support groups and things like that,” she added. “Because they feel helped, they want to give back and be able to help. It’s definitely a peer ran organization.”

NAMI Colorado Springs also offers classes and peer support groups for people living with mental illnesses. NAMI does not discriminate based on the type or severity of mental illness, and many people in the group find encouragement and support from their peers, Shull said.

To learn more about NAMI, or to register for upcoming classes, visit or call 473-8477.

Pikes Peak Courier

Feb 7, 2019

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