Lee's Summit Journal

Course helps those with mentally ill family member learn to cope

Cory Bair holds his great nephew, Asher. While Cory is doing well now, his mental illness motivated his parents to get involved with helping other families deal with understanding their loved one’s mental illness.
Cory Bair holds his great nephew, Asher. While Cory is doing well now, his mental illness motivated his parents to get involved with helping other families deal with understanding their loved one’s mental illness. Courtesy photo

Frank Bair is teaching a free 12 week course starting this September for families and caregivers of adults living with mental illness. His generosity comes in large part because he’s giving back to the community.

He has been there.

He describes his son Cory’s journey with schizophrenia as going to hell and back. Bair and wife Tamara went, too, spending eight years locking their bedroom door each night, because they could not trust their son’s paranoid episodes. They learned how to help their son. They learned how to talk to their son. They learned about medications, doctors, case workers and how to understand a book called the DSM manual, which lists symptoms for more than 150 mental illnesses.

More than 20 years later, their son is doing well, and they devote time to helping other families dealing with loved ones’ severe mental illness get their feet on the ground.

This September, that effort includes the Family-to-Family course which begins Monday, Sept. 10 at Rediscover Mental Health, 901 NE Independence Ave.

The class takes on 12 different subjects families have to navigate, including medication, understanding the illness and what to expect. The program, sponsored by the mental health department in Missouri, was developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness to help spouses, siblings, parents and others better support and understand their loved one living with mental illness.

The curriculum addresses family needs for loved ones of people with a variety of illnesses, including depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia. Family support is very important for a person living with mental illness.

“If you want to get a person doing and living well, then family members have to lend support, Bair said. “They are the ones who do it. There is no one else to do it.”

David Witt and his wife took the Family-to-Family course soon after their son was also diagnosed with schizophrenia. Witt says the classes made a huge different in their experience.

“When you haven’t been exposed to it, you are horrified at first. Who do you talk to? What do you do? It’s a horrendous experience to go through. (The classes) helped us know what to expect and helped us relax so we could help our son,” Witt said.

Taking the classes made them realize they were not alone. There were resources available to help.

Witt says it also helped to hear from other families, because the situation can feel very isolating.

“It’s not like if your son breaks his arm. People are understanding if his arm is broken,” Will said. “When his head is broken, people do not understand. My wish is that people who have a sick loved one on would go ahead and get involved with something like this right off the bat.”

Bair says one of the biggest skills family members have to work on is communication. It is important to know you cannot reason with someone who is having delusions, but you can recognize what is happening and explain the situation to them.

Witt says the most important thing for the ill person is medication. His son takes 21 pills a day.

The most important thing for a family member is education about medication, illness and what to expect, he said.

“You are going to have to handle weird and bizarre behavior from a loved one,” Witt said. “If it is your son or daughter, you are going to worry about it. If you are educated about those illnesses, you can understand services and how to help them.”

For more information, or to register for the classes, contact Frank Bair at 816-763-9320.

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