May 01, 2012


Caregivers who are active in NAMI’s Family-to-Family education program gathered in Dallas recently to participate in a video project aimed at capturing the essence of their life experiences. When finished, NAMI intends to use the video to help convey the heart and spirit of the Family-to-Family program to national, state and community leaders and others who, in turn, can support it through financial assistance, referrals and other means.

As one of NAMI’s signature programs, Family-to-Family is offered free in communities across the country to any caregiver of an adult living with a mental illness. Over 300,000 people have taken the course, but there are millions more in need.

The course consists of 12 classes, each of which covers different aspects of mental illness, family relationships and coping skills.

I was one of the producers for the video project, joining a talented crew from CloudTen, a creative marketing firm. I assisted with the scheduling and participation of each of the eight individuals who were interviewed on camera.

CloudTen is a new agency formed by a group of major agency veterans from the Dallas market. Their vision is to help brands, companies and causes impact the world for the better. Advertising that works at the Cloud 10 level really impacts people emotionally and that is the goal with every project from brochures to social media to TV spots.

On site in Dallas, a simple production set—lights, cameras and a single red chair in front of a stark white backdrop—was transformed into a magical tapestry of rich stories and the beauty of human experience. As I watched and listened, one person after another shared their truths by telling personal stories.

Themes were constant throughout:  humility, hope and caring.

One-by-one, they talked about helping family members who had developed mental illness and how it changed their lives. Guilt, grief, anger, sadness and isolation were the words used to describe their initial encounter with mental illness.

One in four adults experiences a mental health disorder in a given year. One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness. Each of the caregivers participating in the video project represents one of the millions of families affected by mental illness. They spoke to chaos and confusion they felt when they realized that a child or parent or sibling was ill— and how little they knew about their medical condition, treatment or recovery.

They did not know what to do.

That is, until they found NAMI and the Family-to Family program.

Gradually, through the course, feelings of despair and confusion were replaced with understanding, hope, strength and relief. Confusion became confidence. Their role in helping their loved ones became much clearer and helped to “normalize” their experience.

The Family-to Family participants shared their stories for the project. They talked about how their family members are now doing. Because of the new focus and coping strategies acquired through the program, they talked about dramatic, positive changes. They talked about a newfound strength in family relationships and their commitment to others.

Though their testimony, the participants will be helping families who are only now beginning to travel the road that they already have—just as they received strength from families who traveled before them.

As a free education course, Family-to-Family is both a gift to be received and in some cases presented in turn others. All of the trained instructors have taken the course themselves and have a loved one living with mental illness.

Before the video event, I thought I understood the concept of unconditional acceptance and understanding as a powerful tonic for individuals and families seeking recovery and understanding. Now, I recognize that this is not only potent but perhaps essential.

The help and hope that NAMI gives to others in need is the most remarkable gift we have to offer. We humbly thank all the members, supporters and grassroots volunteers who enable us to make a difference.

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