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NAMI invites public to a year of forums on mental illness

Date: 11/18/2009

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM - The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a grass roots organization focused on self-help, support, education and advocacy, dedicated to improving the lives of people with severe mental illnesses. To help further their mission, the NAMI of Western Massachusetts (NAMI WM) will be hosting a series of community forums on mental illness.

"About one in four adults have a mental illness," Arthur Friedman, Ph.D., director of NAMI WM, said. That's why NAMI has 750 affiliates nationwide, 23 of which are located in the Commonwealth. The Western Massachusetts affiliate is the largest in the state.

In order to reach out to people with mental illnesses, their families, NAMI members, mental health providers and those who want to learn more, NAMI WM hosted its first community forum on "Disability and the SSI/SSDI System" with Attorney John Abbott of Amherst last Thursday.

The next forum will focus on "Hospitalization and the Holidays," which will be led by Anne Marie Martineau, Clinical Director of Inpatient Behavioral Health at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. This forum will take place on Dec. 10 from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Agawam Public Library.

"We'll be talking about what it means to be lonely and disenfranchised and what we [mental health providers] can do to help," Martineau explained. "Forewarned is forearmed. People can be disappointed and sad around the holidays. They may miss someone or they can't do what they used to. When expectations are not met, that can lead to real sadness."

Martineau said she works in the behavioral health field because she's always liked hearing people's stories.

"We all want the same things," she said. "We want to be meaningful, creative, have an impact on the world around us, be loved ... How we go about that is so different, person to person."

Friedman has his own story as to why he works with NAMI. His partner was in a serious car accident and as a result, developed a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"I was horrified at how he was treated [because of his mental illness]," Friedman told Reminder Publications. "He became involved with NAMI and it really helped. That's why I stepped up [to take over NAMI WM], to try and revive the organization."

Friedman said the purpose of the forums is to build a bridge between mental health professionals and the community so that people can learn more and receive proper care.

Potential topics to be discussed include "How to Fight Stigma and Discrimination," "Medications and Psychopharmacology," "Peer to Peer Support" and "Addiction, Compulsive Gambling and Other Issues."

"Being diagnosed with a mental illness is not a death sentence," Friedman said. "There's a lot we can do. People with mental illnesses are a force to be reckoned with, and that's a good thing."

NAMI WM's community forums are free and open to the public, and Friedman encourages everyone, whether they are diagnosed with a mental illness or not, to become a part of NAMI.

For more information, log on to NAMI WM's offices are located at 324A Springfield St.