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Support for families and individuals facing mental illness returns to Santa Maria

A screenshot from an introductory video produced by NAMI explaining the 'Family-to-Family' program.

An all-volunteer nonprofit focused on supporting those with mental illness and their families is expanding into Santa Maria. The National Alliance on Mental Illness(NAMI) has chapters in over 1,000 places around the U.S, but until now, the group’s offerings were hard to access for those living in northern Santa Barbara County.

George Kaufmann is president of NAMI Santa Barbara County, which is in the process of changing its name to encompass the whole county. Kaufmann said each chapter of the organization has three missions.

“The first thing is education, both for people that live with mental health disorders and their families,” Kaufmann told KCBX News in a recent phone interview. “[Second is] we have support programs like support groups. And then the third thing is we do advocacy, which is to work to improve mental health services in the communities that we live in and work in, as well as on the state and national level.”

Kaufman said years ago there was a NAMI chapter in Santa Maria, but it went defunct.

“We've been looking for some partners to help us bring NAMI back [to Santa Maria],” Kaufmann said. “Fortunately, over the last year, we found them.”

They are the Transitions-Mental Health Association and Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, plus local families impacted by mental illness. For the time being, NAMI courses will be held in a meeting room at the medical center. One such course is called ‘Family to Family,' meeting once a week on a Wednesday evening for two-and-a-half hours.

“It covers a whole range of topics that families that are dealing with mental health challenges in a member of their family have to deal with,” Kaufmann said.

Like all the basics about diagnosis and prognosis. But more than that, says Kaufmann:

“[Families] want to learn day-to-day skills, like how to communicate more effectively with a relative who's living with a mental health disorder, who might have been a separate reality from from,” Kaufmann said. “When mental health disorders strike a family, it impacts the entire family.”

NAMI doesn’t charge to participate.

“It's free to anybody, and there's only two qualifications to join the class,” Kaufmann said. “One is that you have to be a family member of a person living with a mental health disorder. And the second is you have to be willing to make the commitment to attend the 12 classes, because each class builds on the one before.”

The first class in Santa Maria starts in mid-February.

For more information, visit www.namisantabarbara.org. For similar resources in San Luis Obispo County, visit www.namislo.org. There are also Spanish language NAMI support groups available.

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