A BRIGHTER TOMORROW Mother helps daughter with mental illness using free resources

COLUMBIA- There are more than 900,000 Missouri residents who experience a mental illness each year, including nearly 200,000 who experience a serious mental illness, according to the state’s Annual Status Report on Missouri’s Substance Use and Mental Health.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Missouri supports people who live with a mental illness and their families. The organization offers various free resources that help lighten the load of mental health burdens. 

Kirsten Buchanan lives with bipolar disorder and will have it for her entire life. Before it was treated, it was very severe. It not only impacted her, but her family as well. 

"My parents didn't really know what to do because there's no guidebook for what happens when your child develops a mental illness," Buchanan said.

Buchanan's mom, Barb, helped her take on this new challenge. 

“When you're dealing with a mental health crisis, it feels like you're alone on a speeding runaway train, and you can't stop it," Barb said. "You can't get off of it, and you can't slow it down.”

Barb thought she was alone in the struggle, but she wasn't. She heard about NAMI Missouri and the resources they offer.

Barb decided to enroll in the Family-to-Family educational program, in hopes of understanding her daughter better. The program is for family members and friends of those living with a mental illness.

“The way my mom supports me is super effective. It makes me feel loved," Buchanan said.

The Family-to-Family program is taught by trained family members who have experienced the same challenges. All of the material and instruction are free.

The course includes up-to-date information on different mental illnesses, research on treatments, how to gain empathy and how to cope with the emotional overload.

“Knowing that I had a support system helping me made me want to be that person on the train for somebody else," Barb said.

After Barb took the Family-to-Family course, she decided to give back. She took the Family Support Group Facilitator Training and is now certified to lead the same groups she previously took.

“Information is power. Being able to understand better what is happening with your loved one, and things that you can do to help or things that you learn in these trainings," Barb said. "And not only to help your loved one, but to help the others that are taking the class."

The Family Support Group Facilitator Training is open to those who are interested in starting a new support group or join an existing group as a co-facilitator.

The journey with mental health can be a long and overwhelming one. It's not always easy to talk about the struggles when stigma about it exists.

NAMI Missouri Executive Director Gena Terlizzi said the program is there to help you get through the struggles.

"Until we get to a place where we can talk about it freely and the stigma is gone, we want to make sure that we are there as a safe, supportive environment," Terlizzi said.

There are several other free programs NAMI Missouri offers to help those struggling. They are virtual, completely free and open to all. Go to the NAMI website to find out more about the programs and when they'll be offered in the future.