Arlington, Va. — NAMI's Family-to-Family Education program "significantly" improves coping and problem-solving abilities of family members of individuals living with mental illness, according to a landmark study published in the current issue of Psychiatric Services, a journal of the American Psychiatric Association.
Family-to-Family is a free 12-week self-help course offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in which trained instructors who have family members living with mental illness teach coping and supportive skills to other persons with family members diagnosed with major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or other conditions.
Led by Lisa B. Dixon, MD, MPH, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the study found that the NAMI classes increase both knowledge about mental illness and "empowerment within the family, the service system and the community."
NAMI's Family-to-Family program offers "concrete practical benefits" and demonstrates the value of free, community-based self-help programs as a "complement" to professional mental health services, the study noted. The classes combine an instructional curriculum with a support group environment.
"NAMI has long had confidence in Family-to-Family as a signature education program," said NAMI Executive Director Michael J. Fitzpatrick. "The study reinforces the position of family advocates. It is a signal to the medical profession."
"Doctors and other mental health care workers are often unable to provide enough support to family members, even though families often play a critical role in the treatment and recovery of loved ones."
The study coincides with the 20th anniversary of NAMI's Family-to-Family program. An estimated 250,000 family members have taken the classes to date.
Over 3,500 trained volunteers teach classes in the United States and Puerto Rico. In some communities, classes are offered to families of veterans through local Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities.
Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the study evaluated the effectiveness of classes in five counties in the culturally diverse Greater Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area, involving 318 participants recruited between 2006 and 2009.
The study will be presented at NAMI's annual convention in Chicago, July 2-9, 2011.
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