PAWTUCKET — “Heavenly Father, please grant me peace of mind and calm my troubled heart,” Louise Fortin will soon pray at a new, faith-based mental illness support group for all those asking God for strength and clarity of mind.
Fortin is the facilitator of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Peer Faith Connection Group at Holy Family Church in Pawtucket. The group hopes to provide advocacy, education, support and public awareness so that individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives.
A member of the Rhode Island Chapter of NAMI, based in Providence, Fortin herself lives with mental illness and has been attending these special support groups as part of her own mental wellness plan for years. And for Fortin, her Catholic faith has always been a part of her recovery — it is the main tool in her toolbox for mental wellness.
In an effort to show support and solidarity with those with mental illness, this new support group will begin meeting at Holy Family Church in Pawtucket next week, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 6:30 p.m., in St. Joseph’s Church Hall, and will continue on the second Wednesday of each month. No registration is required.
This is a free, confidential and safe support group for adults living with mental health conditions, regardless of diagnosis. Groups meet for 90 minutes and are facilitated by peers living with their own mental health conditions.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 4 adults — approximately 61.5 million Americans — experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 17 — about 13.6 million — live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. Noting the seriousness of this data and a personal desire combat the stigma of mental illness, Fortin wanted to make more opportunities for support available. She reached out to her pastor Father Joseph Craddock and received the approval to bring the group to her parish.
Trained as NAMI Connection facilitator, Fortin also asked the R.I. chapter if she could bring an important faith-filled element to the support group, in hopes of adding prayer to the beginning and end of the meeting.
“This is the first Connection group of this kind and I was elated that NAMI agreed,” she said.
After inviting NAMI to present at the parish and speaking at weekend Masses herself, the response from parishioners was positive and supportive.
The format of a typical meeting would include discussing and agreeing to NAMI’s Principles of Support, followed by an opportunity to give each individual the opportunity to speak for two minutes about what is happening “here and now” in their lives, or pass.
“After each member has had this opportunity we discuss as a group the topics and issues that were brought up during the individual check-ins. We end with each individual choosing a Principal of Support to take with us. Our faith group then closes with a prayer, reading or song.”
The mission of the National Alliance on Mental Illness explains that mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race or religion and are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable and most people diagnosed can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan. Fortin knows firsthand the benefit of attending a support group.
“As a member of NAMI who has experienced the positive impact upon my life and mental health recovery that the Connection group provides, I want to share the experience with others,” she said. “I have spoken publicly about my illness many times and have always attributed my faith as my base for living well with mental illness.”
For more information about the upcoming meeting, call the parish at (401) 724-9190. The group is only for adults living with mental illness. There is a Family-to-Family group offered by NAMI for family members of persons living with mental illness. Please contact NAMI for more information, (401) 331-3060.