By MEG WATERS     9/7/2023

Mental illness is complex and uncomfortable. We don’t like to talk about it, especially if the afflicted person is someone we love dearly. But information is the key that can unlock hope in what otherwise seems to be a desperate situation.

Deacon Jerry Pyne and his wife JoAnn have spent the last nine years getting the conversation started for families throughout the Diocese who need a confidential and supportive environment to learn how to compassionately respond to their struggling family member and find the professional resources they need.

Working through the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), the Pynes teach an 8-week peer-to-peer course at St. Irenaeus parish in Cypress. All those who have family members dealing with mental health issues are welcome.

“We usually have 12-14 people attend the course where we explain what mental illness is, how to more effectively communicate with the individual and treatment options,” said JoAnn.

“Sometimes there are issues of co-occurrence, which is mental illness plus addiction.”

The Pynes also conduct family-to-family support sessions, which provide ongoing help and coping skills for the whole family. Again, these are open only to people with a family member suffering from mental illness.

Expressing empathy without judgment is often the key to building a better relationship. Another essential aspect is understanding that recovery from mental illness looks different from other forms of illness.

“The patient may come home from the hospital, but they won’t just get over it,” said Deacon Pyne. “It can take months for them to figure out what happened to them. Most men want to just ‘fix it’ and move on. But you can’t.”

The Pynes speak from personal experience.

One of their children suffers from schizophrenia but is doing very well now and living independently.

“I was angry because I thought she should just be able to pull herself out of it, but I learned that anger does no one any good,” he said. “Eventually, you have that ‘Aha’ moment when tells you how to deal with the situation, and you can come to terms with the situation.”

JoAnn added: “Men often need the course more than women but are reluctant to attend. Book knowledge is good, but real life is different. It is enormously helpful to be able to talk to people who are facing the same challenges. You also learn that yours isn’t the only family facing this issue.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the classes can contact Deacon Pyne through St. Irenaeus at 714-826-0760.

The Pynes also encourage families to check out the resources at www.nami.org.

NAMI published a book titled “You Are Not Alone: Navigating Mental Illness and the Journey to Recovery,” by Dr. Ken Duckworth. Another book that may prove helpful is “I Am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help! How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Accept Treatment,” by Xavier Amador.

In October, Orange County will be one of the first in the state to adopt programs under the California Care Act, which provides community-based behavioral health services and support to Californians living with untreated schizophrenia spectrum or other psychotic disorders.

To learn more, go to the California State Department of Health Services at www.dhcs.ca.gov/ and search Care-Act. Finally, Be Well Orange County is a new model for delivering mental health services. According to the Be Well website, “At Be Well OC, our multidisciplinary team provides an integrative approach to mental health and substance use support and treatment.” Information is available at bewelloc.org.