County NAMI Homefront offers relief for veterans, families
Whether triggered by a terrifying event — experiencing it or witnessing it — post-traumatic stress disorder is one of many mental illnesses that affect both the civilian and military populace.
The Prince George’s National Alliance on Mental Illness, (NAMI) a nonprofit, implemented the NAMI Homefront program to help educate military families on critical information needed to support loved ones with mental health conditions. NAMI Homefront is a free, six-week course and an evidence-based practice program that focuses on the unique needs of military families who are faced with these circumstances.
“The class is taught by NAMI trained and certified family members who understand because they have had similar experiences,” Executive Director of NAMI Prince George’s County Collette Harris, said. “They know first-hand that having a family member with mental illness can be extremely challenging and causes confusion, anger and worry about their futures.”
NAMI has a history of partnership and collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
According to Harris, NAMI Homefront is a peertaught course designed to address the specialized needs of military families in a confidential, caring environment.
The NAMI organization has benefited from volunteer support of veterans around the national capital region. Retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Terrance Aycock discovered NAMI while surfing the Internet and has since devoted his time to volunteering there over the past 12 years.
Aycock was serving on Andrews Air Force Base when his wife was diagnosed as bipolar.
“NAMI saved my marriage,” Aycock said. “We had been married for 30 years and when you have a loved one that has mental illness, they have no control over their actions because they do things that may make you angry. You’d wake up in the morning and you don’t know who that person’s going to be.”
Nearly a year after discovering his wife’s mental illness, Aycock, a 35-year veteran and one-time command chief stationed at JBA, started volunteering his time with NAMI to become educated about bipolar disorder. Meeting other people at NAMI who had family members dealing with the same illness helped him to better understand his wife’s mood swings.
“They helped me create a foundation for being able to deal with her better and it kept us together. If it hadn’t been for NAMI I wouldn’t be married today,” Aycock said. “She is still bipolar, but she’s doing a lot better. In the last 12 years she’s been manic only twice, and that’s the key when your loved one is bipolar.”
Aycock, about to celebrate 42 years of marriage with his wife in June, is treated by the same doctor who helps his wife. The doctor checks in with both to make sure the prescribed medication is working and that the relationship is going well.
“I was lucky enough to meet the people in NAMI and now I work with them constantly, because that’s part of me giving back,” Aycock said. “I’m really trying to inform active duty members and veterans about the benefits of NAMI’s Homefront program.”
Harris isn’t surprised by the success the Aycock’s have had through the Homefront program. She said the organization’s mission is to connect family members together as they deal with mental health conditions — and to address the increase of military members suffering from mental health conditions.
Harris further noted a recent study indicates one in five men and women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2014 live with severe depression and/ or PTSD and have experienced more traumatic brain injuries than in any previous military campaign.
“Many return with devas- tating injuries and face living with both physical and psychological pain. Some wounds are invisible to society and these veterans appear as able-bodied citizens but many have limited daily functioning,” Harris said.
Harris is no stranger to military mental illness. Her son discovered he had a mental illness while going through the rigors of the Marine Corps boot camp which resulted in a terminated contract. This inspired the founding of NAMI Homefront in 1991.
“That was the start of me and my husband trying to understand and trying to find the help to find treatment services for him,” Harris said.
Today at age 44, her son receives treatment, lives independently and works a part-time job. Harris said family support helps him with the challenges of his illness.
“NAMI incorporates that same type of support system that helps veterans and their family members better deal with their mental illness,” Harris said.
Roberta Aycock joins her husband Chief Master Sgt. Terry Aycock during a month-long celebration of his retirement in Hawaii in 2009.