LIHUE — Kauai is now an affiliate of the Hawaii chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Local volunteers celebrated last Sunday at Ha Coffee Bar in Lihue. The achievement comes after forming in March 2013, with Kauai joining the Big Island and Maui as three affiliate islands with the state chapter on Oahu, and more than 1,000 local and state affiliate NAMI groups around the country.
“Being an affiliate allows us to grow and expand as services are needed, and tailor them to our community,” said Kathleen Sheffield, Kauai NAMI program coordinator.
Affiliates have access to NAMI national research, programs and teaching materials. They become part of the NAMI lobby in advocating for services and legislation to benefit those with mental illness and their families.
“Supporting, educating and removing stigma from those who have a mentally ill member of the family is crucial in healing the whole family unit, so that recovery is possible,” Sheffield said.
NAMI is a national grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by mental illness, and their loved ones who care for them. It works to improve the quality of life for parents, spouses, siblings and adult offspring of people who suffer from mental illness, and to provide a forum to better cope and understand their loved ones.
NAMI classes on Kauai started with Family-to-Family, a free 12-week course to help family and friends of individuals with serious mental illness learn to cope with the emotional overload of being a caregiver.
Karin Medigovich said NAMI is an excellent organization that made a difference for her, both as a student and certified teacher.
“It is amazing in terms of educating family and friends and even professionals, on what it takes to deal with mental illness and to be better advocates,” Medigovich said.
Donna Jo George of Kapaa recently completed her certified teacher training to become a volunteer. George, who retired years ago, moved to Kauai and took the class after struggling to care for a loved one with a brain disorder.
“It was invaluable because by getting more knowledge I could become more empathic and compassionate for people with mental illness and brain disorders,” George said.
The education was free and George said she learned more about herself and the attitudes that she held for years. In her experience, someone with mental illness might share that they are on medication, but really could not or would not talk about anything else.
NAMI supports efforts for more inpatient beds that treat people in crisis and aftercare, as well as transitional group homes. They also advocate for mentally ill defendants in the judicial system.
Cheryl Sakamoto, a former program director at NAMI Hawaii in Honolulu, joined to seek information and support for an adult son on Molokai.
The attitudes on mental health are moving away from stigma, Sakamoto said. In her role at NAMI, she assisted the Kauai efforts. Less than two years later, the chapter is now an affiliate.
“This is a very significant milestone,” Sakamoto said. “I couldn’t speak higher about Kathy Sheffield for all the effort she has made for the people in Kauai, for those living with a mental illness, as well as the family members who must adjust to the challenges of their loved one with a mental illness.”
Troy Freitas, acting manager for Kauai Community Mental Health and acting administrator for statewide Community Mental Health Centers under the Hawaii Department of Health, said he is a strong supporter of NAMI Hawaii, both as an advocate for mental health in the state Legislature and as a partner in improving services.
“This affiliation status on Kauai is a signal to me that they will have a stronger presence there and that can only help us help consumers and their families in their recovery better than we are already able to do,” said Freitas.
For information about Kauai NAMI classes or programs, contact Sheffield at NAMI.Kauai@yahoo.com or call 635-3239.