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The Journal Gazette

Monday, March 05, 2018 1:00 am


A turning point

Instructors show effectiveness of NAMI courses

Peer-to-peer program

The free, 10-week course for adults with mental illness will be from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Fridays, March 16 through May 18, in the Family Education Center, Building G, at Park Center, 909 E. State Blvd.

For more information or to register, call Bill Valley at 260-414-2012 or Cynthia Gabbard at 260-704-5401.

The strongest evidence the National Alliance on Mental Illness' peer-to-peer education course is effective in helping adults living with mental illness is that Cynthia Gabbard and Bill Valley will teach the upcoming sessions in Fort Wayne.

Just a few years ago, Gabbard and Valley were participants in the same classes – and Valley, 67, wasn't even convinced he should have been there.

“I went to my first class with fear and trepidation,” he said. “The first week I believed I was in the wrong place. By the end of the second week, I knew I was in the right place.”

A family member urged Gabbard, 54, to attend NAMI-Fort Wayne's 10-week peer-to-peer class after reading about it on this page five years ago. There, the mother of two found others coping with the same struggles she faced for years after being diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder.

After participating in the 2013 class led by Michael O'Neil, she was trained to facilitate the course herself. Gabbard now is a local NAMI board member and has participated in statewide events in Indianapolis. She writes articles to educate others at her church.

“I didn't have a voice,” the English literature graduate said. “Through NAMI, I've found one. I almost didn't know I had leadership skills.”

The key with the peer-to-groups, according to Valley, is that everyone has a diagnosis of mental illness and everyone can relate to the others' experiences. He went to his first class at his wife's suggestion.

“I find out by going to NAMI meetings that I've got people who can support me,” said the former factory worker and 25-year teacher. “When I'm manic or when I'm depressed, I'm able to address it because I have the support of people who have experienced this themselves.”

“We're not counselors. We encourage group wisdom,” Gabbard said.

Both acknowledged the stigma so often attached to mental illness, particularly after events such as the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month. Nikolas Cruz, who confessed to killing 17 people, reportedly has received mental health treatment. Predictably, some have pointed to mental illness as the sole cause of the incident.

In fact, the link between mental illness and gun violence is very low. NAMI has been at the forefront, however, in calling for tools to help law enforcement respond to community and family concerns about individuals who might pose a threat. The organization has long called for sustained and expanded funding for coverage for mental health, not cuts.

Fort Wayne is fortunate to have a strong NAMI chapter, as well as important mental health resources in the Carriage House, Park Center, the Fort Wayne Police Department's Crisis Intervention Team and more. In addition to the peer-to-peer course, NAMI-Fort Wayne offers peer and family support groups.

For adults living with mental illness, however, the upcoming course focusing on mental health, wellness and recovery might be the same turning point Gabbard and Valley were fortunate to reach.