Those who'll talk have walked the walk

Living with mental illness is a challenge for everyone involved. Margi Ahlgren and Mary Benavidez both have lived with that challenge.

For 12 weeks beginning Sept. 26, they will share their own experiences and the collective wisdom of the National Alliance for Mental Illness with local people facing the same struggle.

"Sometimes it's a great relief to know you're not alone," Ahlgren said.

Family members and caregivers of the mentally ill are definitely not alone. According to Ahlgren, one in four people has something that is identified as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

"The response we hear the most," said Benavidez, "is 'People have the same sort of problems I do.'"

The term "brain disorder" is sometimes used now, Benavidez said, as "an attempt to get away from stigmatizing language." But, she said, most mental illness has a physiological cause.

In spite of this, Ahlgren said, the world sees mental illness as different from physical illness. "The world judges," she said.

The classes are free and open to family members, partners, and friends of people with such conditions as major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Even those who only suspect a family member has a mental illness are welcome.

The classes are designed to help caregivers understand and support someone with a serious mental illness while maintaining their own well-being. More than 80,000 people in North America have completed the program. The class is limited to 25 participants.

"You learn techniques to communicate with a person whose brain may not be working at optimum," Ahlgren said.

"You're better equipped to be an advocate for a person who can't be an advocate for themselves."

Ahlgren and Benavidez welcome calls from people who want to know more about the classes. Contact Benavidez at 681-8455, or Ahlgren at 461-3859.

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