When Dan Proctor and his wife Jeanne, Guilford residents for over 30 years, learned of their son's diagnosis of a serious mental illness they asked themselves: "Why me?" They felt confused, frustrated, worried, and concerned but instead of being overwhelmed with of all those emotions, they decided to take action.
"We had a really knee-jerk reaction," Dan told Guilford Patch. "We thought why is this happening to us? What are we going to do? But, then we said to ourselves, maybe we should look at those questions and answer them."
"And we found, when we looked hard enough there was an answer," he continued. "We had to learn how to turn this into a positive, empowering experience." After navigating their own experience, Dan and his wife were conscious of the strong, often frustrating, emotions that exist and realized not only did they want to empower themselves, they wanted to help others do the same.
"One if five families is affected by a mental illness, but there can still be a sense of stigmatization," Proctor said. So he and his wife decided to partner up with the Shoreline Affiliate of National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) and train in the Family to Family program, which is a twelve week program designed to be a support and resource for families who have a loved one struggling with mental illness. The program is also sponsored by Guilford Youth and Family Services.
"This is our six year running the course, and it is an amazing experience," Proctor explains. "These families come in and immediately connect with others because of this shared experience. They're allowed to laugh for the first time in a long time sometimes."
"The health care system, particularly when it comes to mental illness, is broken in this country, and we help folks navigate an already creaky system by connecting them with health care providers, getting them educated, and giving them a safe, confidential space to talk about their experience," continued Proctor.
Dan and his wife's 'Family to Family' course is set to begin Feb. 4th, and the class has filled up since Dan and I first spoke. Dan recommends those interested in the Family to Family program to enroll in a Saturday morning class led by Pam in Branford, at Harbor Health Service. Pam can be reached at 860-416-1205 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org for those interested. There are also several other programs starting in the next few weeks throughout the state.
The NAMI Family-to-Family course is a free service to families in need, but because of the 12-week commitment and limited space, advanced registration is required. For more information or to register, call Paloma Dee at the NAMI-CT office at 800-215-3021.