ALBANY -- When Pam Barfield felt she had nowhere else to turn, she found NAMI. That, she said, turned out to be a "lifesaver."
"My husband (Larry) came home from Iraq and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder," Barfield said. "I was looking for some kind of support group, and someone told me about NAMI. I started going and, for me, it was a lifesaver."
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation's No. 1 grassroots mental health organization whose volunteers work in the areas of education, public policy, legal affairs, multicultural outreach, communications and development of programs as they relate to mental illnesses.
"I feel like I was with a group that understood what I was going through," Barfield, who now is secretary of the NAMI-Albany affiliate, said. "Members of the group don't judge, they support. I was so grateful, I decided to become trained as a facilitator and took the Family-to-Family Education Program to help me understand the issues that affected my family."
NAMI-Georgia offers the 12-week Family to Family program periodically to help families face the challenges of brain disorders and find support, resources and coping strategies. The state group will bring the program to Albany once again starting Jan. 12.
"This program really opens your eyes to what a person with mental illness is going through," Barfield said. "You receive information on the brain and how it is affected by mental illness and on medication that is used to treat illnesses. I can't tell you how much of a help the program was to me.
"One of the lasting benefits is that you keep the materials that are supplied during the course, and they become reference material that you can go back and use."
Author Randye Kaye, whose most noted work is "Ben Behind His Voices," which deals with her son's and her family's battle with schizophrenia, is a strong supporter of the F2F course, developed for NAMI by clinical psychologist Dr. Joyce Burland.
"Family-to-Family is the course that saved my life by teaching me what I needed to know to cope with my son's mental illness," Kaye said in a NAMI release. "NAMI helped me, and then I had the tools and the support to help my family, including, eventually, my son."
Dr. Burland's background includes years of coping with schizophrenia in two generations of her own family. She developed the F2F program, which is now offered throughout the United States and in Canada, Mexico and Italy, more than 20 years ago. Materials are updated annually.
The NAMI-Albany F2F program is offered free of charge and is recommended for families and caregivers of individuals with serious mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, panic disorder, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, co-occurring brain disorders and addictive disorders.
Weekly 2 1/2-hour sessions will be conducted Jan. 12-March 29 on Thursday evenings. Sessions start at 5:30 p.m. Persons interested in participating should contact NAMI officials prior to Jan. 12.
In addition to the Family to Family program, NAMI-Albany offers ongoing support and educational programs. On the second Tuesday of each month, the group holds NAMI Nights, which are open to the public. The Dec. 13 program focuses on using breath and movement to release stress.
Two separate NAMI support groups, one for families and one for adults in recovery, meet on the fourth Tuesdays of each month. All events start at 6:30 p.m. at Phoebe Northwest on Dawson Road.
For additional information about the F2F course and about NAMI-Albany programs, contact Barfield at (229) 343-8791 or group vice president Alan White at (229) 883-3191.