Ontario couple offering course for mental health education

From the Argus Observer August 23, 2013

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“Walking on eggshells” is how Michelle and Jose Acosta describe how they spent much of their son’s childhood. He struggled with behavioral problems beginning at age 10, and at age 18, he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder with bipolar tendencies.

“We had been told that parenting for behavioral issues and parenting for mental illness were two different animals,” Michelle Acosta said. “So we needed to take classes.”

The pair enrolled in a 12-week course offered by National Alliance on Mental Illness , a nationwide nonprofit organization that advocates for those who suffer from mental illness and their families. After the third week, the classes had such a huge impact on the Acostas’ home life, even their son was noticing.

“He said to me, ‘I don’t know what you’re learning in that class, but please don’t stop,’” Michelle Acosta said.

The Family-to-Family Education course the Acostas took was so helpful, they became instructors. Beginning in September, they’ll teach a 12-week course in Ontario for family members of people with mental illnesses.

“There are no NAMI affiliate offices between Bend and Boise,” Jose Acosta said, but Malheur County’s mental illness prevalence is relatively high. According to estimates by the Center for Mental Health Services, Malheur County has a prevalence rate higher than that of 15 other counties in Oregon .

The Ontario course is funded by NAMI of Oregon, which is headquartered in Portland. Family-to-Family follows a structured curriculum developed by NAMI that teaches such basics as what causes mental illness and how it’s treated, but also delves into such subjects as self-care for family members, having empathy and fighting stigma. Michelle Acosta calls it an “information overload” but said the topics covered aren’t necessarily the most important part of the course.

“By week three, you’re sharing your story, so there’s a level of trust,” she said. “You open yourself up to the possibility of being hurt, but it’s with people who understand and have a certain ‘been-there-done-that’ feeling. It allows people to form bonds with each other for future support.”

Beginning Sept. 2, the class will meet every Monday for between two and three hours.

“A lot of people have expressed that the class is really long and it’s a lot of commitment,” Jose Acosta said. “But that’s because of the quantity of information. People really do stick with it. It’s worth the effort. You have to start somewhere.”

What you can do

For more information or to register, call Michelle Acosta at (301) 752-4712 or email NAMIclass@gmail.com.