When Milele Hobbs' brother was diagnosed with depression while serving in the military, he found an answer to a question Hobbs had been asking for years. What was wrong with her brother?
"His old personality came back," she told The Skanner News. "That's how important a simple little pill was."
Now Hobbs – a family systems navigator for the Multnomah chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness – wants to encourage parents and caregivers to find answers to their questions about children with mental health and behavior disorders.
NAMI Multnomah will be holding free classes to teach the basics of effectively dealing with people diagnosed with mental health problems.
Hobbs calls the classes "extremely important" for families.
"It's just as important as if your child were diagnosed with leukemia," she said.
The classes will start Tuesday, July 20 and continue for five more sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Swindells Resource Center, 830 NE 47th Ave. To register for the free classes, please call NAMI Multnomah at 503-228-5692.
This round of six classes will be the first offered to the community by NAMI. According to Hobbs, the "basics" curriculum was developed by the national organization. Information presented in the class is taught to help parents and caregivers understand behavior, find the latest scientific studies and support services, solve problems and how to get information about getting accurate diagnoses – which Hobbs says can be difficult in children.
"Children don't lie on a couch and talk to a psychiatrist," she said.
Because children's mental illness and behavior disorders often manifest in a way a child reacts to group settings or learning situations, it's imperative that families hear from other parent caregivers to find the best solutions. The classes will be staffed by certified, volunteer caregivers who have experienced first-hand what it takes to deal effectively with a child diagnosed with a mental illness. She hopes in the future to turn class participants into trainers to further expand the number of classes in the area.
Hobbs said NAMI previously offered a similar course called "Visions for Tomorrow" which has been discontinued. It was not "urban or culturally reflective enough" and included 15 mandatory weeks of course work. The six classes held for the "basics" class have flexible attendance requirements, because children having mental health crises can often interfere with a parent's ability to attend a class, she says.
Parents and caregivers are often looking for the same answers.
"Hope. Breaking the isolation. Normalcy," Hobbs said.
For many people of color, breaking the stigma of mental illness can be difficult, especially when society wrongly blames a parent for a child's outbursts and behavior problems. As a young woman, Hobbs, who is African American, says she raised her five siblings after the death of her mother, several who exhibited signs of behavior change she felt –at the time – unqualified to deal with.
"Learning from people who've gone through it (is extremely helpful)," she says.
Recent police shootings in Portland illustrate a system that is inaccessible for many families. Keaton Otis, 25, was killed by police on May 12 after shooting one officer. He had exhibited the signs of schizophrenia and other mood disorders for several years before the shooting. Otis' mother, Felesia Otis, said that despite being a professional who helps prisoners transition back into society for Volunteers of America, she couldn't find help for her son.
Hobbs says classes and support groups for the mentally ill are a piece of the puzzle for the entire mental health system. In addition to the upcoming "basics" classes, NAMI regularly holds support groups. Those groups often include education forums followed by a group therapy session. The nonprofit also has "webinars" available on their website – www.nami.org/multnomah.
Hobbs said the "basics" class should allow families to tap into the wide array of resources offered by NAMI.
"If I'm having a house built, I may not have to know how the electrical wiring works, but I do need to know how to live in the house," she said.