The National Alliance on Mental Illness Mid-Kansas offers a free 12-week series of Family-to-Family classes in Newton. The series is designed to give participants information about the issues they may face in dealing with someone who has a mental illness, including treatments, medications, local resources, communication skills and coping strategies.

The classes are led by volunteers who have personal experience with mental illness affecting a family member. In Newton, they are being led by Larry and Anita Sadowski, along with Barbara Gibson.

Friends and family members can feel helpless and alone as they are challenged with the stress and uncertainty of supporting those diagnosed with a mental illness.

"They become really strong advocates for their loved ones, but they need a lot of education and information," Gibson said.

Feelings of panic, grief, disappointment and fear can occur after learning a loved one has a mental illness.

"That's when you need some other people who have been through this," Gibson said.

The Family-to-Family classes are open to those who may have a family member or friend dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety or mood or thought disorders.

Participants learn how the brain functions, how mental disorders occur, what research is being done and what treatment options are available. The goal of the Family-to-Family classes is not only to impart information, but also to instill self-confidence in those who attend and give them a network of peer support.

"People who aren't certain on that first night ... they say, 'yeah, I need to be back here next week,'" Gibson said.

The Family-to-Family classes are also valuable for those who may have had decades of experience dealing with a mentally ill person without much support from other family members.

While primarily focused on those who are friends or family members of adults with mental illness, people who support children with a diagnosed mental illness are also welcome to attend the classes.

Those who may be physically located near a person with mental illness but still wish to support them are also encouraged to participate.

"You don't have to live near them to be affected," Gibson said.

The Family-to-Family classes utilize presentations, interactive exercises and group discussions.

A Family-to-Family class began on Jan. 7 and is open to new participants through Jan. 21. The sessions take place at 6:30 p.m. each Monday at Newton Medical Center, 600 Medical Center Dr.

NAMI also offers two other programs in Newton. The NAMI Family Support Group, which is a peer-led support group for family members, caregivers and friends of those living with mental illness, and the NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group, which is for adults living with mental illness. Both support groups meet at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at First Mennonite Church, 429 E. First St. The meetings are free and confidential.

For more information about the NAMI programs, call or text 316-835-1624. To learn about the National Alliance on Mental Illness, visit namikansas.org.