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Grassroots organization shines light on mental illness, provides support

Stella Smith looks through some NAMI materials on Tuesday.

Sun Advocate reporter

Stella Smith knows firsthand what mental illness can do a family and wants to help local residents cope with similar situations.

The south Price resident is spearheading an effort to form a Carbon County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The first NAMI planning meeting is scheduled June 25 and Smith hopes it will draw everyone who needs support dealing with mental illness.The meeting will be at 5:30 p.m.. at Active Re-entry, 10 South Fairgrounds Road.

"I thought ‘oh my goodness’ they are finishing my sentences," said Smith of her initial encounter with NAMI. "It was the first time I was around people who are speaking my language."

The stay-at-home mom said she has experienced the pain and frustration of helping someone close to her deal with the onset of mental illness.

"One of my family members starting getting really paranoid and thought I was plotting against him," shared Smith.

Her family member was eventually diagnosed with bi-polar disease and round after round of drugs in an attempt to get the disorder under control.

"In the beginning he was over medicated," she said. "He would try one of them for a couple of days and then be stumbling around and they would try something else."

Eventually the right doses of the right medication were administered and her loved one is now functioning fine, she said.

"Now he’s doing really well, he’s just great," she said.

However despite finding the solution for her own family, Smith also found a new passion - bringing support and services to others in need.

For her, NAMI and its myriad of programs are the answer and she picked up the torch and is carrying it throughout the county.

The torch was lit at an April 29 luncheon at College of Eastern Utah, which was attended by 40 residents and service providers.

The gathering was organized by Ben Moore, a case worker with the Utah Department of Children and Family Services.

Moore said he had known about NAMI for a long time and thought that it would be a great asset to residents in the county.

"It’s such a great program," commented Moore on Wednesday. "It is the largest grassroots volunteer nonprofit in the United States."

Moore said NAMI’s programs provide much needed free mental health resources to the community.

"This is definitely needed. There are many families who don’t work, don’t even have a car and are in need of assistance," said Moore.

Assistance provided by the 29-year-old mental health advocacy organization comes in form of several programs, which include:

• Family-to-family - A 12-week course designed for family members of people who have mental illnesses.

• Bridges - A 10-week course for those living with mental illness covering everything from brain biology to treatment options to recovery.

• Hope for Tomorrow - An education program offered to secondary schools with components for students, teachers and parents.

For Moore, whose work is centered around children in the foster care system, Hope for Tomorrow is a critical addition to local schools.

"I am really interested in seeing this program get back into schools," said Moore. "It tackles issues like suicide, mental illness and sex education."

NAMI deems itself as a "grassroots, self-help, support and advocacy organization of consumers, families friends of people with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic and other severe anxiety disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and other severe and persistent mental illnesses that affect the brain."

Moore and Smith emphasize that one of the key components of the organization is helping to erase the stigma attached to mental illness.

"Mental illnesses are brain disorders, which stem from an interaction of biological environmental factors. They cannot be overcome through will power and are not related to a person’s character or intelligence. The most serious and disabling conditions affect five to 10 million adults and three to five million children in the United States," indicates NAMI.

For more information, residents may call Stella Smith at 637-1371.

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