January 06, 2008

NAMI Chapters begining new Family to Family Classes

Every January most NAMI chapters around the country start their new sessions of their Family to Family courses - and we encourage everyone to sign up for one if you haven't already. Here is a brief description of the courses:

For nearly 10 years, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Guilford County has offered a course called Family-to-Family. This course covers information about major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and borderline personality disorder. A series of 12 weekly classes is structured to help family members understand and support their ill relative while maintaining their own well-being. The course is taught by a team of trained volunteer family members who know what it's like to have a loved one with a serious mental illness in the family. There is no fee for this course.

The NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program was begun in 1991 by psychologist Joyce Burland, Ph.D., who had spent 20 years dealing with severe schizophrenia in her sister and daughter. She had never been given any instruction on how to be helpful to them, so she decided to write a standardized curriculum and training guide for other families. Now, more than 150,000 family members in the United States, Mexico and Canada have completed this course.

There is good reason to believe that Family-to-Family is an evidence-based program. Over the past decade, a research team at the University of Maryland in Baltimore and NAMI have collaborated on a series of studies to examine the benefits people receive when they complete Family-to-Family. These research studies show that those who have taken the course understand mental illness better, worry less and feel better able to care for their ill relative. Many family members describe the impact of taking this course as "life changing."

The only negative thing I've ever heard about these classes is that they have have for too long relied upon some very outdated views (or at least NAMI has in the past) on the cause and treatments of mental illness.

In the the major medical schools around the world today they teach what is known as the "Bio-Psycho-Social" model of mental illness which states that the causes and treatments of mental illness are factors that include biological predisposition, as well as psychological and social factors. By addressing all of these factors researchers tell us that you can both lower the risk of mental illness in your children, and reduce the risk of relapse in those who are mentally ill.

Unfortunately NAMI has relied upon the old and outdated model of schizophrenia as a purely biological disorder (ie. a "neuro-biological brain disorder") - ignoring or significantly under-emphasizing the advances during the past decade in understanding the psychological and social factors in mental illness. Psychiatrists, psychologists and neuroscientists all tell us that NAMI is seriously out of sync with the up-to-date medical profession in this key area. This thinking is perhaps best covered in Dr. Grohol's writeups on this important issue. You can view Dr. Grohol's writings below (and we encourage all NAMI members to read it and try to get NAMI to update their information in this area, if they are still pushing the old simple view of mental illness):

A Disorder by Any Other Name... By John Grohol, Psy.D.

NAMI's MISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN - Why Does NAMI Continue to Misinform the Public? By John Grohol, Psy.D.

So - we recommend you take the NAMI Family to Family class - but disregard their message that mental illness is only biological (if they in fact are still calling it simply a "neuro-biological brain disorder"). Try to encourage them to update their science and cover the psychological and social factors too. I know that they are doing this to try to sway public opinion about mental disorders - thinking that if they are explained as purely biological then people (voters, congress, etc.) will result in increased funding for research, etc. However the cost of this inaccuracy is too high - if we are to prevent mental illness in our families then we need to know all the facts, and the facts as research is suggesting for the past decade is that social and psychological (especially high levels of ongoing stress) are key factors in the development of schizophrenia and other mental illness. Families need to know this so that they can prevent it in future generations.

To Sign up for a class in your area - check the NAMI list of local chapters and affiliates - and contact them and ask them if they offer the Family to Family class (or something similar).

Additional Reading:
The Bio-Psycho-Social model in action (pdf download)

Is Schizophrenia Psychological Or Biological?


So are we saying that mental illness is not primarily a physical disorder? It is primarily a result from social environemnt? Sorry, I am trying to learn.

Posted by: Curious at January 8, 2008 12:11 PM

Scrath that last comment. I'll go read the "Is Schizophrenia Psychological Or Biological?" article first. Sorry.

Posted by: Curious at January 8, 2008 12:35 PM

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