Education is to mental illness as training is for a job. Learning coping skills, information about medications, treatment options and new research is what prepares you to deal with the inevitable challenges of mental illness. Without education, recovery is a much slower, painstaking process.
It begins with learning the essentials—what mental illness is, how it’s treated, next steps after a diagnosis. For a person at the starting point of their mental illness education, NAMI programs are an amazing resource. For example, NAMI Basics is a class for parents and other family caregivers of children and adolescents who have either been diagnosed with a mental health condition or who are experiencing symptoms but have not yet been diagnosed.
For those who have already learned the basics and are ready to take a deeper dive into this complex topic, here are a few suggestions:
Ask Your Doctor Specific Questions
A mental health professional is a trove of information. Before an appointment, prepare a list of things you want more information about. Some examples might be:
- Are there any alternative treatments I can do in addition to my current treatment?
- What should I avoid doing other than what you’ve already told me (i.e. drinking, drugs)?
- What websites or books do you recommend for my condition?
- What are the most successful coping mechanisms?
- What should I do if I’m experiencing suicidal thoughts?
The Internet is an amazing resource—but it’s also a potentially dangerous one. The web has boundless information for a person who wants a better understanding of mental illness. There are research studies, statistics, scientific articles, etc. However, for every website with accurate information, there are just as many with unreliable and biased misinformation. So, it’s essential to only research from trustworthy sources. Here are just a few NAMI-approved resources:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
- International OCD Foundation
- Psychology Today
- Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA)
- The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Treatment and Research Advancements for Borderline Personality Disorder (TARA)
NAMI National Convention
For those who want in-person communication with the experts within the mental health community, the annual NAMI National Convention provides access to world class researchers and clinicians. During the dozens of interactive sessions and workshops, you can learn about the latest tools, research and recovery techniques. This year, our convention is fully embracing a deeper dive into mental illness with a theme of: Educate, Empower, Engage. A few examples of the amazing sessions taking place include:
Michael Haines (left) talks with an attendee after his presentation,
2016 NAMI National Convention
- Promising Practices to Improve Quality of Life in Young People with Schizophrenia and Other Severe Mental Illnesses
- The Pharmacology of Yoga: Practices and Perspectives for Achieving Wellness
- Studying Bipolar Disorder
- Technology to Improve Care
At convention, you can connect with both mental health professionals and fellow mental health advocates, and learn from each other—what methods have helped in recovery, coping techniques, etc. These four days are a great reminder that you are not alone and there is hope.
If you or a loved one lives with mental illness, there are so many challenges to contend with. You know that, and NAMI knows that. Through education, we hope to make it easier for you to cope, to support and to have a fulfilling life despite the adversity you face.
We may not be able to make huge changes to the structural issues embedded within the mental health system overnight—although we try to. But we can persistently raise awareness and share all the knowledge we have to offer. This is one of the pillars we stand on.
Laura Greenstein is communications coordinator at NAMI.