North Raleigh News

NAMI of Wake County classes help family members and friends of those with mental illness

Almost three years ago, Andrea Chase’s husband demanded a divorce, moved from their North Raleigh home to Massachusetts, became homeless and got in trouble with the law.

Chase wasn’t sure what to do or how to convince the man she loved to come back – back home and back to reality. Her husband was experiencing psychosis, and doctors in Raleigh didn’t have advice to offer Chase.

Eventually, her husband returned home safely and started taking medication for what doctors believe is bipolar disorder.

But Chase, 47, of Raleigh also needed help to learn how to care for her husband as they navigate the sometimes rocky road of mental illness. She found the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s Family-to-Family classes.

The classes had such an impact on Chase that she became an instructor for the program, which aims to help family members and friends of people who suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome and other mental illnesses. The goal is to better communicate, empathize and care for adults living with mental illness.

Chase will instruct upcoming Family-to-Family sessions in North Raleigh. Classes start Feb. 5.

In addition to her personal experience, Chase was trained by NAMI of Wake County before becoming an instructor. She has taught three other Family-to-Family classes.

“It was really a milestone for me,” Chase said of the free 12-session class. “I struggled with accepting it and trying to get my husband help and treatment. It was the first place I heard the message of hope and recovery.”

This is the 20th year NAMI of Wake County has offered the classes, which are taught around the country, said volunteer coordinator Virginia Rodillas. Each year, about 75 people participate locally.

“The goal is to educate families,” Chase said. “Because many of us experience in a health crisis ... a fast learning curve, and health professionals focus on the ill relative and we are often left to figure things out on our own.”

When her husband got sick and became uncooperative with her, Chase didn’t have access to his medical records and couldn’t get information from his doctors.

As doctors worked to make a diagnosis, Chase felt like she wasn’t doing enough to help. The class helped her make sense of the confusing time in her life.

“There’s a social stigma and a personal stigma we all place on our situation,” she said. “It can be hard to know where to find help.”

During the classes, participants role-play to learn how to better interact with the people they care about. Those skills, paired with the built-in support, can be life-changing, Chase said.

Chase’s husband is now on medication that helps offset his more extreme symptoms. They didn’t move forward with a divorce; the couple recently celebrated their 22nd anniversary.

Chase said she hopes she can help other families see that managing a mental illness is possible.

“I’m excited to give back and help other families,” she said.