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NAMI of Erie County

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Crazy. Hopeless. Alone. These are some of the stigmatizing words that are commonly associated with mental illness. They create an aura of fear and misunderstanding. This prevents many people who need help from seeking it because they fear being excluded and don’t understand the challenges they or their loved ones are facing. The No. 1 way to eliminate this aura of fear and misunderstanding: education.

Denise Kolivoski,
Executive Director of NAMI of Erie County

For more than 35 years, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Erie County has been committed to eliminating these stigmas by providing mental health education to individuals, families and the community. “What makes NAMI programs so unique in our community is our mission is focused on education. We provide families with the information, tools and skills they need to support themselves and their loved ones facing these mental health challenges,” says Denise L. Kolivoski, MBA, NAMI of Erie County’s executive director.

NAMI programs are offered at no cost to participants, thanks to generous support from the community. These programs are evidence-based, indicating they have sustainable, repeatable results. They are also peer-led by trained facilitators.

According to NAMI, peer facilitators have been through similar situations as program participants and can lend their personal experiences as a guide for families just starting their journey towards recovery. This, combined with the latest research on mental illness and recovery strategies, provides a comprehensive approach to educating program participants through academic and experiential learning. Overall participant satisfaction ratings for NAMI programs are 90 percent. NAMI offers programs for individuals facing mental health challenges, parents and other family members. Now, family members of veterans and active-duty service members also will be able to benefit from them, thanks to charitable donations raised by the Allstate Roar on the Shore® — Pennsylvania Bike Week scheduled for July 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 at its new “Hub” in North East, Pennsylvania.

“I’ve taught both the Family-to-Family and NAMI Basics programs many times,” says Christina Halli, NAMI program facilitator, “and, as both a graduate of these programs and instructor, I can say they have not only made a tremendous positive difference for my own family, but on hundreds of other families in our community, as well.”

NAMI Homefront is a six-week program offered at no cost to participants. The program focuses on providing mental health education for family members, friends and loved ones of veterans and active-duty service members who are experiencing mental health challenges. Through the course, participants gain a better understanding of the challenges their loved one is facing, information on mental illnesses, including an emphasis on PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and depression, ways to advocate for treatment and support their loved one has earned through their service, and self-care strategies to empower themselves to continue supporting their loved one.

“As a veteran myself, I know this class will provide families with a greater understanding of the unique challenges we veterans face,” says Halli. “The education provided through this program will bring families closer together, increase the quality of life for all involved and eliminate stigma throughout the community. I’m so thankful that Roar on the Shore® can provide the resources to bring this much-needed program to Erie.”

“Is it so crazy and hopeless to think that individuals facing mental health challenges can’t make the journey towards recovery and a full, meaningful life?” Kolivoski asks. “Absolutely not, especially when you don’t have to make the journey alone. By providing the education to reduce stigma, NAMI of Erie County can help people start their journey and enable others to join them.”