A Lady Named Pat

By Cy Stanton

It was in the spring of 2006 when our son experienced his first major mental health crisis and ended up hospitalized for over a week.  For our family, this event came out of the blue and we were, like most families first impacted by mental illness, totally unprepared to deal with this crisis in our lives. Fortunately for us, while sitting in the family area waiting for visiting hours to begin, we found a flyer on a coffee table for a 12-week NAMI class called “Family-to-Family.” 

The flyer described the course as something that would teach us how to “manage crisis, solve problems and communicate more effectively with our ill relative.” As this was all very new to us, we figured “what do we have to lose?” After completing the course, we were later asked to train to teach the course, and today I am still teaching it and am now the Director of Programs for NAMI New Mexico. 

It has been almost a dozen years since we took the Family-to-Family class and I’m happy to report that, thanks in no small part to this class, our son is now married, has a job, and is doing much better than even his doctors ever thought possible. Of course we have had some ups and downs along the way, but given that he has been doing relatively well for several years, you might wonder why I continue to teach the Family-to-Family class.   Well, there are lots of reasons, but I’ll use the story of a lady named Pat to illustrate one of the biggest reasons.

A couple of years ago I was driving home from work when my cell phone rang.  When I answered (hands free of course), the voice said, “hello, you probably don’t remember me, but my name is Pat and I took your class a couple of years ago.”  At first I didn’t remember her, but then, as she started describing the situation she had with her son, I did recall her.  Pat’s 20-something son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but he refused treatment and had been living on the streets.  She only rarely spoke with him when he would occasionally call from a shelter in need of money or clothing.   Otherwise, she had no real connection with him and was unable to convince him to get medial help for his illness.  She never knew from one day to the next where he was or even if he was still alive.  

She called that day because she wanted me to know that, thanks to the things she learned in Family-to-Family, she was able to re-establish regular communications with her son.  She said she eventually convince him to see a doctor and get the help he so desperately needed. She told me that her son is now on medication that has greatly improved his condition, and he was now living in his own apartment and no longer on the streets.  

Hearing from Pat on that afternoon, as I drove home on I-40, sent a bit of chill down my spine. That’s when I realized that the Family-to-Family program really does help families and their loved ones living with mental illness.  Since then, I have heard many stories from families who were helped in different ways by taking the Family-to-Family class. I can’t say that every story is as compelling as Pat’s but I do know that the skills taught in this evidence-based course can and often do help families more effectively navigate the challenges of mental illness and reduce the stress in their own lives. That’s why I still enjoy teaching Family-to-Family after all these years.