I wasn't sure where to put this so here it is.
NAMI New Hampshire model of excellence in the nation
Putting hope and recovery into vocabulary of mental illness
Lifting the shroud off mental illness
By LAURA POPE
"In the last 30 years, there has been a tremendous shift in the mental health world," said Ken Braiterman, a mental health care advocate with NAMI-NH in Concord. "The shift has been from a model of institutionalized adults who require maintenance, receive bad medicines and learn the helpless behavior in institutional settings where the best outcome is staying out of the hospital and perhaps getting a part-time job bagging groceries to one where the mental health system is one of actual recovery. It has taken an entire generation to transform this care system from maintenance to recovery."
In New Hampshire, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill or NAMI, is one such example, and some say the best example, of the changes in the mental health care front.
As one of several independent, non-profit consumer groups in the nation geared toward education, advocacy, support and programs for the mentally ill and their families, NAMI-NH has paved the way for increased awareness and recovery and in the process, offered an educational program called "In Our Own Voice" that empowers its participants and those who listen to them.
The speakers’ program, which began last December and Braiterman coordinates, offers public access to a speakers’ bureau of 20 individuals recovering or recovered from severe mental illness, and is one of approximately 40 chapters around the country.
"We were hoping for about 20 speaking engagements in a year’s time, but we’re already at 40. These trained speakers frame the topic of mental illness in the form of survival stories told all over the state at schools, colleges, churches, businesses and mental and health care settings to advance the truth that people with mental illness do get well, stay well, have productive lives and successful families," explained Braiterman, a mental health care advocate from Penacook who worked as chairman of the state mental health consumer council for four years before signing on with NAMI-NH.
The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in New Hampshire was founded in 1980 by Peggy Straw, the president of her local mental health care center, with the support of a few New Hampshire families frustrated with the existing mental health care system. This Granite State visionary forged an organization, as did others leaders from states across the nation, that proved a prime example of the cooperation possible between existing agencies such as our N. H. Division of Mental Health and a non-profit advocacy group, www.naminh.org.
The inspirational and hopeful messages broadcast by In Our Own Voice speakers is an important component to recovery while changing the negative impressions and stigma of mental illness in the minds and hearts of the thousands who attend the talks.
In Braiterman’s mind, education is a large component of mental illness treatment and recovery.
"A 20-year study of schizophrenia has reveals that 10 percent of the population will have the disease. One-third of these people will have one break and get better; one-third will have periodic breaks and one-third will become chronically ill and can manage on medication and other therapies. How chronic it is varies. At one time schizophrenia was considered a disease that got steadily worse and it turns out not to be true. New medications, coping skills, a support system along with faith, discipline and patience, the right diagnosis and receiving the right kind of help will lead to recovery. Often the mentally ill are diagnosed or assigned a label that is not correct or very scientific and as a consequence, they may not get the treatment they need for years. The biggest factor to recovery, however, is acceptance of the condition once it has been identified."
The recovering and recovered mentally ill count as a resource to families and individuals dealing with mental health issues as well as professional mental health care providers.
"People with mental illness have gone for years being invalidated and not listened to by their caregivers," said Braiterman. "With this program, they are now being told how courageous they are which gives meaning and significance to their pain and their ability to turn that around and help others.
"Having a mental illness is not a life sentence or a death sentence," insists Braiterman, who also teaches a 40-hour coping skills workshop created by Brattleboro, Vt. mental health pioneer, Mary Ellen Copeland, to recovering individuals.
"Copeland organized a system of recovery principles, coping skills and relapse prevention," he explained. "She trained many people in New Hampshire, including me, to teach the workshop."
Braiterman describes the workshop as being a very practical plan that includes teaching individuals self-awareness skills such as having a daily maintenance plan, an early warning sign plan; a way to cope when a trigger sets off warning signs as well as teaching people to change their bad thinking about their disease.
"Someone with mental health issues, even if they are diagnosed correctly, taking good medicines and getting therapy might still have problems with self-esteem and isolation so changing negative thinking is an important part of the workshops."
Kim Wedel, 44, of Somersworth is another potent advocate for mental health in the state. Working as a teacher of wellness recovery action plans, an orientation leader and training committee member for mental health care professionals at a Dover mental health care center and a speaker in the In Our Own Voice program, she nevertheless lists her degree as N.S.I. – no significant initial.
Diagnosed with D.I.D. or disassociative identity disorder, formerly called M.P.D. or multiple personality disorder, Wedel introduces herself as a recovering individual when she takes the podium as a speaker. "I have been assigned letters of the alphabet for so long, it doesn’t matter anymore," she says with a laugh. "My diagnosis is not the important part of what I have to say."
Wedel’s journey to recovery began four years ago when she took the Copeland workshop course at the Strafford Guidance center in Dover, now called Community Partners, hosted by Ken Braiterman. Eventually, Wedel would earn her own workshop teacher’s certificate at Copeland’s school in Vermont.
"Last December, Ken asked me to participate in the ‘In Our Own Voice’ training and I have given talks at churches, colleges and parents groups since then."
Wedel tells listeners about her dark days of being ill before she knew what was wrong, accepting her diagnosis and treatment, what recovery means now and what it was then, what hopes she has and the accomplishments she has achieved.
"I’m not recovered but recovering, and my accomplishments far outweigh the problems. The hardest thing I have to deal with is to ask for help. I tell people in my talk about acceptance and non-acceptance issues; that there is a lot of stigma from within the mental health care system."
The two-hour presentation she gives, which includes a NAMI video, allows Wedel the chance to change opinions and enlighten the book-educated health care giver.
"One of the best talks I gave was at a college for those students thinking about social work careers and those already in social work. I stressed the importance of remembering that a mental illness diagnosis shouldn’t be the foremost label; that people are people first, not an illness. And from my point of view, a student of social work or a recovering person may want to hear what I have to say because I’ve been there. If you’re going to cooking school, you’d want to hear from the person, the chef, and not just learn from books."
NAMI-NH’s programs and resources for families, individuals, the general public and mental health care providers have made it a national leader, said Braiterman, who adds that this most lauded bellwether has been under attack the last two years.
"The state – specifically Gov. Benson and John Stephen, Commissioner of Health and Human Services – abruptly ended paying for these workshops taught in 15 peer support centers located within community mental health care centers all around the state. They killed the contract in July, extended it for three months and killed it again in September. Over 500 families are affected; their NAMI advocate is now gone. Families whose loved one needs special services and are struggling with the school system, for instance, have had a NAMI person there to advocate for them for the last 15 years. Now this very advocacy program has been given back to the mental health care centers, but without any budget to pay for them. Which means they will not be used. The state had taken these special programs out of mental health care centers years ago and given them to independent non-profits like us because sometimes the adversary is the mental health center.
"One of the previous two Commissioners was a health care professional and the other became a big supporter of peer support, an alternative treatment that saves the state money. Now the cuts are in prevention and early intervention which makes no sense at all – its pennywise and pound foolish."
Wedel hopes cuts in NAMI programs will not affect In Our Own Voice, who hopes her story, and the story of others in recovery, will continue to put faces to the many success stories NAMI has to share.