"It's really hard to get better if you don't know how to get better.”
That's how Demi Aretae (pictured left) sees it — and she really wants to help people get better. It’s one of the reasons she’s moving into counseling, following an IT career. She’s also volunteering as a producer for NAMI Colorado Springs’ virtual Family-to-Family classes — where she’s developed a unique perspective on how they make struggling people feel … better.
“The first class is almost like a deer-in-headlights experience,” she says.” A lot of the people are like, ‘What am I going to do? I have no answers.’ And at the end of class, they're like, ‘OK, you know, I don't have all the answers … but I have these two.’ Nobody has the same two answers. But they all have their first two steps, and that is something. That is empowering. Every time.”
Family-to-Family is an evidence-based program for people who love someone with a mental health condition. Once a week for eight weeks, students learn about conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depression; develop new coping skills and communication techniques; and pick up advocacy strategies for supporting their loved ones.
Demi has produced two courses via Zoom, helping students with technical questions and managing uploads, screen sharing and the chat. She’s seen it help all sorts of people: parents and spouses, retirees and military members, people who are desperate to share their stories and those who come in extremely guarded.
“I've met a couple of people who, at the first class, didn't want to talk,” she says, “and by the third class they talk. Just to know that it's a safe space to talk about these things that are hard to talk about with other people, I think that's important.”
NAMI never tried virtual Family-to-Family classes before COVID. But Demi has seen it work: “If you are both present and honest, then the connection follows.”
For example, she remembers a woman sharing a heart-rending story about having a hard time with her loved one. “One of the other ladies in the class said something like, ‘Oh, I remember that.’ She kind of picked up the other lady's story … they had such similar experiences that she could pick up this other person's story. And the first lady, she started crying because she was so moved.
“It’s a different experience when someone is across the room from you, or in Zoom with you, and you recognize their problem. You recognize their pain.
“It is a really, really powerful thing that NAMI gives away for free.”
Grants and donations are what make it possible for us to offer Family-to-Family — and all of NAMI’s courses, support groups and presentations — for free. If you haven’t already in 2021, please consider supporting NAMI via:
• the Give! campaign, which runs through Jan. 3;
• a check sent to NAMI Colorado Springs, 1615 S. Murray Blvd., Colorado Springs, CO 80916;
• or the Empty Stocking Fund, which runs through Jan. 21, and where each gift is divided among NAMI and 19 other local health and human service agencies.