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NAMI offers help with mental illness issues

Co-President Denise Hackel, left, and board member Kathryn Van Dusartz are actively involved in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) St. Croix Valley affiliate in St. Croix and Pierce counties. They want residents to be aware of the free services of the grassroots mental health organization. Photo by Jon Echternacht

For people in St. Croix and Pierce counties with mental health issues or those of a family member, there is cost-free help from a local organization.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a grass roots mental health organization committed to building hope for all those in need.

"The St. Croix Valley affiliate offers crisis intervention team training, family education, peer-to-peer and support group programs," said Denis Hackel, co-president along with Patricia Cederholm, of the local organization.

"There are 30 to 40 members of the St. Croix Valley affiliate," said Hackel, "and we can always use more volunteers."

"We are available to everybody in need," said Kathryn Van Dusartz, a member of the board of directors, "and most important, it is free."

The group has a monthly business meeting that gathers at 4:30 p.m. on the last Thursday of the month in the cafeteria of River Falls Hospital that is open to the public. Support groups meet every two weeks, said Van Dusartz.

"Sometimes it doesn't take very much support to make a difference," said Van Dusartz, who is a mental health therapist with Pierce County.

Hackel, on the other hand, is the parent of a child with mental illness. "I have a 25-year-old daughter who has a personality disorder," Hackel said.

Hackel said her daughter was about four years old when there was a radical change in behavior and she was diagnosed with mental illness.

The family education and support groups have been valuable to have somebody to talk to who is dealing with the same kind of issues, she said.

"It helps to build a network," Hackel said.

NAMI programs offer work groups of people who join together for mutual support and understanding for coping with serious and persistent mental illness.

The Family-to-Family Education Program is a 12-week course for families of individuals with severe mental illness designed to foster learning and healing.

Interestingly enough, Hackel said a lot of mental illness issues develop among college-age persons, 20 to 21 years old. She also said the local affiliate is also working with military veterans with mental illness issues.

NAMI started in Wisconsin and has become a nation-wide organization. In April 1977 about 13 people met at a nightclub in Madison. Within six months 75 people had joined. The first national conference at Madison in September 1979 included 284 representatives from 29 states. Today there are 34 local affiliates in Wisconsin that represent a majority of the 72 counties and are supported by 2,000 individual, household and professional memberships, according to the group's website.

Van Dusartz said the local affiliate revived an old charter about five years ago and has kept active ever since.

For more information on the local affiliate contact Denise Hackel at (612) 639-2078 or Pat Cederholm at (715) 246-9251. For information about NAMI Wisconsin contact on the web.