National Alliance on Mental Illness
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NAMI Connection: Two Years and Growing

The NAMI Connection team celebrated its second anniversary this month, welcoming 16 new states and marking unprecedented growth for a NAMI education program. The weekly recovery support groups, offered free of charge for adults living with mental illness, are expected to reach people in 46 states nationwide this year.

The Connection model was developed with the philosophy that a support group is successful if each individual actively participates in the group and people leave a meeting feeling better than they did when they arrived.

Led by facilitators who are experienced in living well with mental illness, Connection participants across the country share their challenges and successes of recovery with a group of peers in a casual, but confidential environment. The hope is that this positive group experience will encourage individuals to identify and work towards their personal recovery goals.

NAMI is grateful to AstraZeneca for their generous and ongoing support of NAMI Connection, without which the progam would not be possible.

In February of 2007, the Connection team hosted its first facilitator training for 23 individuals in West Cornwall, Connecticut. In two short years, NAMI has trained a total of 1,283 Connection facilitators who lead 272 support groups.

“A program like this typically takes six or seven years to reach a majority of states,” said Joyce Burland, director of NAMI’s Education, Training & Peer Support Center. “I am very proud of the Connection team. We really appreciate the great response from states, trainers and facilitators that all stepped up and have done a terrific job. Their effort has been enormous.”

Lacey Berumen, executive director of NAMI Colorado, has witnessed the overwhelming support for Connection in her state.

“Connection was one of the missing pieces that now allows consumers to actively engage in NAMI,” said Berumen. “It’s a great program, a vehicle that allows our members to share their voice and connect with the voices of others on a weekly basis. We have an amazing coordinator and facilitators who carry the program.”

As the Connection program grew, the team looked to its best resource—Connection participants—for feedback during the spring of 2008. In conjunction with the University of Maryland, NAMI conducted a survey of 406 participants from 15 states to gauge their satisfaction.

The responses were overwhelmingly positive.

More than 90  percent of the people in the program found NAMI Connection helpful because they could contribute to the group and speak openly about their illness. Additionally, more than 93 percent indicated that the program offered an opportunity to speak and feel understood. About 88 percent of respondents reported that NAMI connection has produced positive changes in their recovery.

NAMI will continue to look for opportunities to reach more people in more places, in some cases adapting the Connection to better meet the specific personal and cultural needs of different communities. In 2009, Connection will pilot a Spanish-language model and a veterans model.

“In this economic climate when we see cutbacks in mental health services, the roles of community resources and peer support become essential,” said Burland. “One day we hope that a person anywhere in the country will be able to find a local Connection group when they need it.”