Mary Stephenson, National Alliance on Mental Illness president, speaks during a family class offered by NAMI in Yakima, Wash., on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. Family classes help people cope with family members experiencing mental illness.

YAKIMA, Wash. — Even for those closest to the situation, understanding the complexities of mental health conditions and their treatments can feel daunting.

“Families are often not prepared — these kinds of illnesses can just come out of the blue,” said Mary M. Stephenson, whose role as president of NAMI Yakima’s board of directors puts her on the front lines of education, support and advocacy for those suffering from issues related to their mental health.

The local affiliate for NAMI — the National Alliance on Mental Illness — is one of more than 500 across the country. It’s a grassroots, volunteer-driven organization dedicated to improving the lives of millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

The organization is offering two educational opportunities for everyone in the Yakima area:

• NAMI Family and Friends is a five-hour seminar set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Comprehensive Healthcare, 402 S. Fourth Ave. Lunch will be provided.

• A 12-session class called Family to Family runs 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays from March 6 to May 15, also at 402 S. Fourth Ave.    

“The seminar is a nutshell of what goes on in the class,” Stephenson explained. “The class is a 12-session course, and a lot of people don’t have the time to commit, but they can do a one-day seminar.”

Both programs are free and will provide information on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses, while educating attendees on how they can cope and communicate as caregivers, prepare for a crisis and where to go for additional community resources.

“The course is really excellent — you get this huge manual and you get way more information than you ever thought you needed,” Stephenson said.

Opportunities like these are only some of the many ways NAMI Yakima works to improve lives affected by mental illness. The organization also has support groups for those diagnosed and support groups for families, friends, coworkers or anyone in the community interested in learning more.

After all, Stephenson said, mental illnesses can affect anyone.

“What’s really interesting is that a lot of people don’t realize they have a family member — a brother, uncle or a cousin, an aunt or parents who have issues they don’t even know about,” Stephenson said.

Explanations of different conditions and medications used in treatment are among the basics covered in the courses, Stephenson said, but there’s so much more a person gain from attending.  

“It’s just knowing that it’s biological and not a character flaw,” she said.

The information can help people communicate while learning how to care for individuals and those closest to them, Stephenson said.

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