NAMI San Joaquin, the local branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, will sponsor two peer-based workshops for the community starting in January. The workshops will both serve to help families and individuals dealing with mental health challenges.

One of the programs offered will be a collaboration between San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services and NAMI San Joaquin County, the Provider Education Program. The program consists of five training sessions for mental health providers, created in alliance with those who use mental health services and their family members.

The Provider Education Program takes real-world examples and reflection from families and individuals dealing with mental health challenges, to share information and perspective that can be implemented by mental health providers. Then, providers can use those tools in their treatment and when working with families of patients.

The provider series is based on NAMI’s Family-To-Family Education, which helps family members understand mental illness and talk through any challenges they’re facing.

“The stigma surrounding mental illness makes it hard for families to understand what is going on, and how to cope with it,” said Irene Sherman, the Lodi-area contact and facilitator for NAMI.

Sherman, whose son faces mental health challenges, became active with NAMI to help her better accept her son’s illness.

“Many people are unaware that mental health is like any other disease, except it affects a person’s brain instead of their body,” Sherman said.

Sherman believes that the reason that people struggle with reaching out for help with mental health issues is that society has little knowledge about such struggles. Because of that, people look to hide the fact that they or someone they know struggles with depression, bipolar disorder or another mental illness.

For people struggling with mental health challenges of their own, NAMI San Joaquin is also sponsoring a Peer to Peer Education Program. The course is specifically designed for adults living with mental health challenges. The program is a 10-session course held once a week for (2 hours), and it is taught by trained mentors living in recovery themselves.

Peer to Peer provides an educational setting focused on recovery that offers respect, understanding, encouragement and hope, NAMI San Joaquin said in a press release. Mentors in recovery teach the class, showing their peers that dealing with a mental health challenge is possible.

“It is important for families and individuals dealing with mental health issues to realize that the disease is not the person,” Sherman said.

The largest misconception about mental health is that people may be seen as synonymous with their illness, she said.

“People need to learn to separate the person from the health challenge,” Sherman said.

NAMI seeks to help people recognize and confront mental health stigma, and see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It also connects families and individuals with local resources and treatment.

NAMI offers many services available on their website. For more information, visit www.namisanjoaquin.org

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