The veterans who cross Mark Kmen’s path at Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center have any number of mental health problems, from schizophrenia or depression to post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.

One thing they all have in common, Kmen says: The veterans need help understanding what is happening inside their minds, and how to deal with it. As do their families.

That information is at the heart of the family-to-family education program that begins this week at Togus.

“It helps (families) understand the mental illness better, which in turn helps reduce their stress, which is helpful to the veteran as well,” said Kmen, local recovery coordinator for Togus.

The free program, being organized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Maine, will be offered at Togus beginning at 6 p.m. today. The 12-week series will cover information about PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other mental health issues.

“One thing unique about the NAMI program is that it doesn’t target a specific mental illness,” Kmen said.


The course is designed to help families of veterans who suffer mental illness to cope with crisis and relapse and provide basic information about medications, listening and communication techniques, problem-solving skills and recovery and rehabilitation.

The program has been specifically beefed up to focus on mental health issues facing combat veterans, said NAMI-Maine Executive Director Carol Carothers.

“The class not only educates,” she said. “A lot of times when you’re coping with a mental health issue, you’re doing that alone. People suffer in silence.”

NAMI offered the course at Togus about two years ago, Carothers said. The feedback from that session was encouraging.

“People who take the class feel much more able to cope with mental health problems they’re facing and their families are facing,” Carothers said.

Mental health professionals developed the program, but it is taught by volunteers who have experience dealing with family members with mental illness.

“It’s more of a peer approach,” Kmen said. “It’s people who have walked the walk helping others walk the walk.”


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