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Our Journey With Mental Health Challenges: A Story From NAMI Wake Facilitators

Written by: Sandy Mann

Sandy Mann is an involved volunteer at NAMI Wake. She is our Helpline Coordinator and a Family Support Group Facilitator and Trainer with her husband, Dale. They were both recently trained to become NAMI Basics facilitators and will be teaching our upcoming NAMI Basics class starting in January 2021. 

In the Colorado spring of 1998 when we received the shocking mental illness diagnosis for our younger son, we were surprised, baffled, and concerned. But we wrapped our arms around our son and said ….. “let’s deal with this.”  We found a young psychiatrist (not in our insurance network, of course) who suggested our son get back to college and helped him apply for and receive an Eli Lilly Reintegration Scholarship.

Our son’s strengths have always been his strong will and athletic ability.  Calling on those strengths he focused on his college classes and he talked the track and cross-country coach at the university into letting him try out for the team.   

Soon we bought an old RV and headed out on a cross country trip from Colorado to Vancouver Island in Canada.  As our son got used to medication and we all got used to his symptoms, he ran miles every day along rivers, farms, and the ocean. We all came back home ready to tackle any challenges. Our son had wonderful years while completing a college degree in Sports, Health and Wellness Promotion from the School of Nursing and competing each year for the school cross-country and track teams.  Our older son has always said that his smart, strong-willed brother with a psychologist father and a teacher mother were a great team to tackle the challenges as they surfaced.   

We thought we were moving forward; but, after a decade of optimism and even with the accomplishment of a college degree, we all got stuck.  We found a small announcement in our local newspaper about a NAMI family education course.  That began our involvement with NAMI.  As with so many other families dealing with mental health challenges, the NAMI Family to Family course gave us the facts, philosophy, and community that we were missing.

Then on a trip to North Carolina to visit our older son and his family, we attended a NAMI family support group in Wake County and our son attended his first Connections Recovery support group. We decided to take home to Colorado what we had found here in North Carolina. And we did. We owe a debt of gratitude to NAMI North Carolina who welcomed us to NAMI trainings even though we were living in Colorado. Our involvement with and belief in the value of NAMI programs has only grown over the 10 years that we have been teaching the Family to Family course and in the 4 years since we moved here to North Carolina. We have also recently become trained to teach the Basics course for families with school-age children with mental health challenges.    

Today, we appreciate each chance to communicate the NAMI family education programs to families struggling with the upheaval and crises of mental illness. And we have learned so much as support group facilitators ourselves and as trainers of NAMI Family Support Group facilitators.

We are grateful that our journey has allowed our son to have the same beautiful smile today that he has always had.  Being involved with NAMI has been such a blessing to our family, we want to give back and share what we have experienced.


Sandy and Dale Mann will be co-facilitating our next NAMI Basics class, starting in January 2021. To pre-register for the class, click here

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