Mastin’s search for help led her to NAMI

Published 10:04 am Friday, September 18, 2015

It was the search to find services for her autistic child that led Harriette Mastin to the National Alliance for Mental Illness.

“I was trying to find resources,” she said, adding that search led her to a NAMI program called “Family to Family,” a program developed by a psychologist who had family members with mental illness.

“My husband saw an article in the Clarion-Ledger in the late 1990s about a new class offered in Vicksburg,” Mastin, the NAMI affiliate for Vicksburg, said. “I decided to take the class and started calling about availability. I took it to see if it had something to offer. The class dealt more with caring for adults, but still I was able to get enough resources from that (to help her situation).”

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Because “Family to Family” was such an intense program, she asked to take it again, and that led to affiliation with NAMI, starting as one of the program’s teachers. “Since I had been a teacher by profession, I was asked to take the training to be certified to teach family to family.”

As the local affiliate, Mastin serves as the liaison between the local organization and NAMI Mississippi’s Board of Directors.

She said the local organization raises awareness through participation in the Vicksburg Christmas Parade and sharing information about NAMI at the city’s annual Veterans Day observance and the annual health fair at Alcorn State University. Members also hold fundraisers to support the organization.

One of NAMI’s goals is to remove the stigma associated with mental illness through classes and support groups for families, and social events.

“The stigma is always a big scare and it makes it hard for a lot of people,” she said. “As we say, ‘mental illness is not a casserole disease.’ If you’ve had a heart attack and you’re sick in the hospital, people will come to see you. But with mental illness, most of the time, I think our families are afraid to let the neighbors know they have that.”

Mental illness, she said, is viewed by a lot of people who know nothing or very little about the disease as something to be ashamed of.

“We try to fight that stigma and bring [mental illness] out into the open and try to talk about it in a natural way, because we view it as a biological brain disorder. We view it as a disorder the same way as heart disease or diabetes would need treatment,” she said.

She said her experience seeking help for her child has inspired her to help parents with similar situations.

“To me it was hard,” she said. “I’m a teacher, and you think a teacher is here to help children and then you get in there, and you find out you have a lot of red tape to go through to get your child tested or get them (the school) to make an effort to address the needs of the child.”

She said the child had been in a private school, and everyone told her and her husband their child would get the necessary services in pubic school, “And it was getting the services that was the problem.

“I was just grasping for resources, and it was so hard to find those resources,” Mastin said. And once she found the resources, “I thought it was a shame to just leave those resources lying. I wanted share them with other people, other parents, who might have children who needed these services or names.”

She said the local affiliate began asking for a class for parents of children. They now have it, “Basics for Parents.”

Mastin, who still teaches the “Family to Family” class, said one of the things that happens during the first class is people learn they have a lot of company.

“The greatest thing is everyone’s saying, ‘We’re not alone. We thought we were by ourselves.’ They realize then, that we have a support network for people.”

“It’s just a wonderful program and you get all kinds of information, and once you have some knowledge, that kind of gives you an edge to be able to talk to doctors who are treating your loved one,” she said. “It’s a sense of empowering the person.”

Besides “Family to Family,” NAMI also has a family support group and a monthly breakfast club at Shoney’s open to family members and patients.

Mastin said the programs all help to remind people they are not alone in dealing with mental health issues because they are able to freely talk about them.

And that openness also occurs outside the class. Mastin said when she tells people she volunteers with NAMI people will begin to talk about a relative who has a mental health problem. “You would be amazed,” she said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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