So many times, there are subjects in life that few want to speak about. One of those is having a loved one who is afflicted with a serious mental illness. Not only does the individual have a difficult time coping from within themselves, they have to cope with stigma inflicted upon them by a lack of understanding what a mental illness is. The illnesses I am talking about are those such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, PTSD, bipolar disorder, which was once called manic depression, addiction disorders and other mental illnesses that may or may not precipitate psychosis, the lack of contact with reality.

Mental illnesses are not flaws in someone’s character. They are true dysfunctions in the most complex organ of the body, our brains and nervous system. It is no different than another vital organ such as our heart, lungs, kidneys or others. When they become dysfunctional, we need care and help to make them functioning again and survive. If you have a crisis such as a stroke or heart attack, you are going to need care, therapy, medication or maybe surgery to regain functions that were affected. A person with a mental illness who experiences crises is no different.

I have a son who is now 34 years old and was diagnosed at age 19 with one of the most devastating mental illnesses, schizophrenia. One of the best things I have done for my son is learning as much as I can about his illness. No matter how his illness has affected him, I love my son and strive for a better Quality of Life (QOL) for him, a young man who had hopes and aspirations to be a professional baseball player. I have no doubt he would have succeeded. Not only has this illness been devastating to him, his illness has affected his whole family. His illness is no fault of his own, he did not ask to be ill, nor did he do anything that caused it. It was having a genetic predisposition and environmental factors that contributed to his illness.

There is an organization that can help, NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and I am a member of the Rome affiliate. NAMI is the largest grassroots organization of its kind that provides education, support and advocacy to those living with a serious mental illness and to families that love them and support them. I have personally seen the QOL of those diagnosed with a mental illness and those who surround them change for the better through education. Not many things in life are free, but the education that NAMI provides is. NAMI provides a Family to Family Class. One of the best investments I made for the love of my son was to take that class. It is taught by family members who have loved ones who have a mental illness. One of the requirements to be enrolled in the class is to be a family member or an immediate caretaker of a person who has a mental illness or disorder. This fall class starts Sept. 9, and meets from 2-4:30 p.m. for 11 consecutive weeks in Rome. If you are interested or have any questions about the class and want to get registered, please contact me, Don Benson, via email at or by calling 770-289-5071.

Find help, find hope. Recovery is possible!