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Support Is Online For Those Struggling With Mental Illness

We’re winding down the last days of May, which has been designated as National Mental Health Awareness Month.   But beyond May, there are still some online support groups available for those coping with problems.

KPCW talked to Owen Ashton, who is the Board President for the National Association of Mental Illness (or NAMI) a group that offers help, both for those personally struggling with mental illness, and for family members or caregivers of victims.

During May, NAMI offered free online support groups.  Ashton said those will be ongoing.

He said he had his own struggles, dealing with depression and anxiety.      

“Early in my life, I had some major depressive episodes, I think they’re called, that landed me in a psychiatric ward.  Most of my life, I’ve been fairly functional but just had bad days now and then.   But I for years, kinda lived without knowing that I had a condition, chronic depression and so forth.   And then my wife, after we’d been married about 12 years, kinda leaned on me and said, ‘Owen, you’re a workaholic, and you’re aloof from the family when you’re home with us.  So you need to get help.”   And I didn’t see any need to, but she was very insistent so I did.   And it turned out to be just a fabulous experience of getting to know myself and really getting to a better place in my life.”

He said treatment can be a big help for the self-styled macho man, who thinks that he has to “tough it out’ with problems he encounters at work or at home.

He talked about how support groups and other treatment helped him.       

“I had talk therapy with clinicians, with therapists for years.  And that was really helpful in helping me to understand some difficult challenges that I had, back during my teen years, some trauma and so forth.  It really helped me get through that.   But then going to the support groups has helped me to get rid of some of the, I call it self-stigma and shame, just realizing that there are a lot of other people that are in similar situations.  So that’s really been helpful.   And then also, we get to share coping mechanisms.   Like I remember in one session, one of the individuals there was talking about how important sleep was to them.  And I had never really thought about that.”

Ashton said each online group has about 10 to 15 people.    In some ways, they can be better than an in-person meeting, since participants don’t have to travel.

Ashton said he trains the facilitators for the support groups, who are all volunteers, not professionals.       

“We’re dealing with what can be very sensitive things, so training is very important.   And so, we go through like a two-or three-day courses.   Every person that facilitates one of these groups, and we always have two facilitators at least.   And every one of them has gone through a fairly rigorous training course to just know how to manage the class and keep it headed in the right direction.”

Owen Ashton from the National Association of Mental Illness.  For more information, you can go online to “NAMIUt.org.”