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Support for Persons with a Mental Illness

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Connection is a recovery support group program for adults living with a serious mental illness. The groups provide a place that offers respect, understanding, encouragement, and hope. Connection groups offer a casual and relaxed approach to sharing the challenges and successes of recovery and resilience. On average, groups meet biweekly for 90 minutes, are offered at no cost to participants, follow a flexible structure without an educational format, and do not recommend or endorse any medications or other medical therapies.

Connection groups are not clinical, and are not group therapy. Participants often note a difference: “Connection is different from any other support group that I’ve ever been to,” said one. “Other support groups have ‘open share,’ where you go around, say your piece, and go home.”

NAMI support groups for people living with SMI are designed for facilitators to encourage positive interaction and problem-solving among participants, focusing on solutions that originate from the group, rather than a clinician. “Connection puts the focus on me, and a solution for my issues, so that I feel much better leaving than when I came in,” said a participant. “I also feel that I’ve contributed to others, as well as having been supported.”

All groups are confidential - participants can share as much or as little personal information as they wish, and they follow standardized Principles of Support. Participants are empowered to make decisions about when to share, and when to receive feedback from the group. The principles were developed by experts in the field and experienced participants and facilitators, and include “seeing the individual first, not the illness,” “recognizing that mental illnesses are medical illnesses that may have environmental triggers,” “finding strength in sharing experiences,” “not judging someone else’s pain as less than our own,” and “never giving up hope,” among others.

Connection groups are open to any adult living with a serious mental illness, regardless of diagnosis.

Trained facilitators lead Connection support groups. In keeping with fidelity to the NAMI peer education model, facilitators are also persons living with SMI, and who demonstrate the skills and confidence necessary to ensure positive interactions and share lessons from their own recovery journey. Acceptance of this role is often a significant step in recovery for the facilitators themselves, adding volunteer experiences and skills to their professional development paths. Feedback indicates that facilitators experience increased levels of confidence to enter or return to jobs, education, volunteerism, and other community settings, augmenting recovery in an important way.

A deeper level of investment for Connection leaders comes with certification as a facilitator trainer at NAMI’s national Train-the-Trainer conference held annually. NAMI Indiana’s grassroots approach, (providing training and technical assistance to local NAMI affiliates across the state who then implement support groups themselves) calls for a deep, geographically diverse, bench of volunteer peer trainers to help facilitators get their groups up and running quickly, in order to meet local community needs. To create a sense of ownership, self-worth, and professionalism, NAMI Indiana distributes a stipend to facilitator trainers for each training course. As a professional development and leadership opportunity, Connection facilitator training infuses great energy into a person’s recovery journey.