Help is on the way for the estimated 7 million Californians affected by mental illness. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) recently announced plans to begin new Peer-to-Peer Recovery Education Courses for clients in the state.

“NAMI is a national grassroots organization. The purpose is to advocate with those who suffer from the illnesses,” said NAMI California Board of Directors treasurer Coleen Peters.

The Peer-to-Peer program is a nine-week educational course intended to help clients understand mental illness recovery is an obtainable goal. The course will include lectures, group processes, biological information, coping skills and much more, according to the press release. The courses will be offered in 15 counties throughout the state.

“There are two peer counselors along with two trained family members and a professional training other peers about the illnesses, how best to manage medications and the side effects,” said NAMI California Board of Directors member Candace Jackson. “The program has been very successful. If it weren’t successful we wouldn’t have brought it to California, put it that way.”

The previous success of NAMI programs in other states was a big reason for bringing the program to California, she said.

“The program is run by peer mentors who have successfully managed their illnesses and can then mentor others,” public relations representative Catherine Chung said. “There have been really positive experiences with the program so far.”

Since its establishment in 2000, the Peer-to-Peer program has expanded from operating in four states to 21 states across the country, according to the press release. Launching programs alongside California are Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Ohio, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

“It has been a phenomenal success,” Peters said. She said her county classes began last year and already a second and third class are filling up. “One out of five families have at least one member with a mental illness. So everyone knows someone, it’s not like you don’t know at least one person affected,” she said.

Jackson said the types of mental illnesses targeted by the program are the major ones. These include, but are not limited to, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She said the Web site, www.nami.org, provides more information about the illnesses and a synopsis of the program.

NAMI is a non-profit charitable organization and was founded in 1979. Members are involved in public education and information activities, family and consumer peer education and support activities, advocacy on behalf of people living with mental illnesses and for the health of our communities, and visible public events that raise funds and awareness while engaging the public, according to the Web site.

Earlier in the year NAMI produced a “Grading the States” report, which was an analysis of the mental healthcare systems in individual states. California received a C overall. The national average was a D. The introduction of the Peer-to-Peer program could change that grade.

“The main goal is the education of both the clients and family members. It started out with Family-to-Family and has grown exponentially into other programs,” Jackson said.

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