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Mental Illness & families: A story of support

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Living with mental illness, whether it's you or your child or sibling, is very difficult.
And because of the stigma attached, people don't want to talk about it.
They're afraid you'll judge them or ridicule them in some way.
And that's not a healthy way to live.

9 On Your Side found a group of people who know the best way to live with mental illness is through unity, pulling together to make a challenging experience easier.

"It ain't because of your parents, it ain't because of anybody, it's just a disease that can happen to anyone at any time," one of them said.

They can't help but be some of the most mature young men 9 On Your Side has met in a while.

"Because my brother Keller got hit by a car and has brain damage now," said James Beamon, 9 years old.

Brothers, 2 siblings living with mental illness.

 "I have a sister that has a mental illness and stays in a facility in South Carolina," said Chris Beamon, 10 years old.

A 9 and 10 year old learning to support from people with a lot of it to offer.

"I am a person with lived experience with mental illness," said Carol Cannon, lLiving with mental illness.

Mothers, fathers, spouses sharing how mental illness touches them.

"I have two children that were diagnosed with bipolar disorder," said Susan Beamon, mom.

"It's mind-boggling, especially when you have a child who denies that they have a mental illness," said Janice Riley, mom.

"My whole family is affected by it, not just me. Family friends, it goes down to the family animal. They know something is going on," said Christine Spencer, mom.

They are members of the National Alliance for Mental Illness or NAMI as they say. It's a support group with its own mascot that strives to teach that you are not alone.

"The primary function of NAMI is to advocate, to provide education, to provide education within the community, and to support one another in any way we can," said Millie Hagler, President, NAMI Greenville.

And on this night, the Greenville chapter allowed 9 On Your Side to join them to see first-hand a good thing in motion.

"I got word of NAMI and come to see NAMI and started to realize I'm not the only one in this world with the same problem," said Richard Riley, father.

"What do you think about these meetings," 9 On Your Side asked.

"It's pretty good because they talk about my feelings and stuff," one member answered. "It's good."

"I think they know what you're feeling and they can feel it too. We're not the only ones with people related to us that have mental illnesses," another member explained. "My husband and I would have collapsed if it had not been for this group."

"The emotion is that this child of ours is sick and so many people express, or you feel like they're expressing this stigma, and it's not anything we did to him, it is not anything he did to himself," said Betty Howes, mother.

The stigma of mental illness is an obstacle. It burdens a family with unique challenges that take an emotional toll.

"I just think the toughest things for parents that have young children with a mental illness is that other parents are right there to judge or possibly teachers thinking that we haven't done enough that our children are acting out," said Elizabeth Lee, mom.

So much is frustrating for these strong people. In just ten minutes with them, it's easy to see that. The group offers them that home, that safe zone, where they can teach, learn, and love through the simple act of sharing.

"You find out that people with mental illness-we all have the same sort of challenges," said Larry Hagler, father.

They're fighting mental illness together in a way even the simplest heart can hear.

"What about when people make fun of people with mental illness, how does that make you feel," 9 On Your Side asked.

"It just ain't right, you're just not supposed to make fun of people, they have a mental problem," one in the group answered.

"It's not their fault. It's nothing they can handle. Nothing they can control, it's just a disease that happened to them. They can't change it," another said.

If only all kids were as fair and smart as those guys.
Tuesday at 11, we're visiting the new NAMI chapter on the campus of ECU.

Then on Wednesday, 9 On Your Side is diving into North Carolina's mental health system with a 2-part story. We'll tackle a couple of the issues facing providers and families.
Finally, on Thursday, while live from our town hall meeting, part 2 of that story on the future of our state's system.

It's changing again as "Mental Health Awareness Week" continues on 9 On Your Side.

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