Mental Illness

Mental health issues affect not only the people experiencing them, but also their families.

They, too, need support, and starting March 17, the National Alliance on Mental Illness — Western Slope (NAMI Western Slope) will begin hosting family support groups in Montrose.

The meeting is from 5:30 — 7 p.m. at PIC Place, 87 Merchant Drive (use the west side entrance). The meetings will then take place every third Wednesday of each month at the same place and time.

“There seems to be a significant need,” said Eva Veitch, who is co-facilitating the NAMI support groups with Kathy Riggle.

She pointed to ongoing Zoom meetings NAMI Western Slope hosts each Thursday (6:30 — 8 p.m.), which draw people from all over the region, as well as from out of state. (For information about the weekly Zoom meetings, visit namiws.org; email namiwesternslope@gmail.com or call 970-270-0213. For more information about the Montrose NAMI meetings, call Riggle at 520-282-9060.)

In Montrose, families keep calling, seeking support as their loved ones struggle with illnesses such as bipolar, schizophrenia, and suicide attempts, Veitch said.

“As a family member, it’s just really hard to cope with that on an ongoing basis,” Veitch said. “These support groups are designed to, No. 1, let people know they are not alone and, No. 2, hopefully give them some coping skills.”

NAMI is focused on supporting patient families. “We try to focus on what the family needs. NAMI has support groups for the individual dealing with mental illness, but the one we’re doing here right now is focused on the family,” Veitch said.

“It’s a very impactful illness. There’s such a stigma around mental health. When somebody in the family has cancer, people talk about that and seek support. When people find out somebody has cancer, friends, families and the community tend to rally around that family.”

The same does not generally hold true for mental illness, she said.

“People seem to be ashamed to talk about mental illness and if they do talk about it, the community doesn’t tend to rally around about it. They tend to just pull back and that’s really when people need friends and family more than ever. But we tend to not to know what to say,” Veitch said.

She was inspired to train as a family support group facilitator because of the way mental illness touched her own family. Veitch’s husband died by suicide three years ago.

“I think at the core of that was chronic depression related to chronic illness. When that happened, I decided that somehow, I was going to turn that into something positive,” she said.

“This is just one of those things I feel very strongly about, that we’re not supposed to get through difficult things alone. This is something I can do and I feel very strongly that NAMI has a good way of helping people. It’s a solid foundation for helping people.”

Supporting and educating family members is critical to the overall family dynamic, NAMI Western Slope Program Director Leslie Kent said.

“When a family gets educated and they themselves get support, then long-term, they are able to help a person with a long-term mental health condition to live in recovery,” she said.

Like Veitch, Kent knows firsthand how important resources like NAMI are. She was married for 22 years to a person dealing with bipolar. “NAMI was a lifesaver and a game-changer for me, because I finally found a ‘family’ that got me and understood,” she said.

Veitch has also seen the benefits of NAMI by how it has affected others. She said one participant had been dealing her husband’s mental health crisis and was worn out. But now, Veitch said, the woman feels as though she has a whole new set of coping skills, as well as a family at NAMI she can count on.

“She just feels better and safer knowing that she’s not alone on this journey. … It was probably one of the most powerful things I experienced. Watching her go from physically drained to being able to get some rest and get some help for her loved one — and therefore being able to take care of herself — was just huge,” Veitch said.

“A lot of that had to do with just being able to find some support. As human beings we’re not designed to get through difficult stuff alone.”

The monthly in-person NAMI meetings are structured, focused on the here and now, and how families can cope with what is happening in the present, Veitch said.

“NAMI has some really good tools and the structure is designed for the group to help one another. I’ve seen through the groups that I’ve helped with so far, some really good results. I’ve seen these folks really come together,” she said.

“We’re just the facilitators. We’re not there to solve people’s problems; we’re there to facilitate group discussion and help people realize they’ve not alone in this journey; to help them collectively come up with some coping skills.”

A Zoom-based event, In Our Own Voice, will be presented Feb. 27, from 1 to 2 p.m. by two who are in recovery from mental health conditions.

“They bring such hope to the community because with mental health, the stigma is just so great,” Kent said.

Kent conducts the regular Zoom-based family support sessions every Thursday.

“It is amazing, the families that need support. The individual with a condition, they can go to therapists, psychiatrists. Even if that system may not be functioning as best as we would like it to do, there are options,” she said.

“But for family members, they feel lost, worn-out, scared. They just don’t know what to do.”

Kent said she is unaware of any organization that offers the support and education for family members that NAMI does, so she is excited to see family support meetings start up in Montrose.

Veitch is also looking forward to the program beginning here. She is also hopeful of adding more volunteers to expand NAMI services and resources; those interested can call her at 970-901-5274 or Kent at 970-270-0213.

“It’s just an outlet for people to come and talk about what they’re dealing with, going through, kind of to let go of some of that and realize they’re not alone in this journey. We have a lot of people in this area who are dealing with this,” Veitch said.

“The amount of pain, suffering and angst people have right now is overwhelming,” NAMI Western Slope Executive Director Kevin Barclay said. “Our goal is to reach as many people as we can who are isolated or isolating within themselves.”

NAMI also operates a national help line, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. — 4 p.m., at 800-950-6264. The crisis text line can be reached by texting NAMI to 741-741.

Other resources included the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255, and locally, The Center for Mental Health crisis line, 970-252-6220.

As always, if someone is in immediate danger, call 911, but notify the dispatcher that it is a psychiatric emergency and ask for someone trained in crisis intervention to respond.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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