County NAMI Home­front of­fers re­lief for vet­er­ans, fam­i­lies

The Enquire-Gazette - - News - By BOBBY JONES Staff Pho­to­jour­nal­ist

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.

COUR­TESY PHOTO

Roberta Ay­cock joins her hus­band Chief Master Sgt. Terry Ay­cock dur­ing a month-long cel­e­bra­tion of his re­tire­ment in Hawaii in 2009.

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