On the homefront: Class educates on mental illness in veterans - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

On the homefront: Class educates on mental illness in veterans

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A new class hopes to offer support and educate family members of veterans who struggle with mental illness in Eastern Iowa. The free six week class will be offered at the Waverly Area Veterans Post starting late September. 

The first of its kind, the class was designed specifically for family members, friends, and caregivers of veterans. The Black Hawk County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness is sponsoring the class. 

Class instructor Nancy Edwards, who is now retired, but used to work at the Bremer County VA, says families are the missing link. 

Edwards knows the struggle first-hand. Her late husband was a Vietnam War veteran who developed severe bipolar disorder. 

"I realized there were things from war that were affecting him, but I didn't really understand," said Edwards. "They've learned to emotionally detach from things when they're in battle, but when they come back they're detached from family members and that's hard for family members to deal with."

It wasn't until she turned to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), that she began to understand how to help her husband. 

The course will educate loved ones on PTSD, bipolar disorder, depression, and a range of other problems veterans struggle with. There will be workshops teaching how to problem solve, communicate, and de-escalate in times of crises. 

The class is open to anyone, and everyone. Edwards hopes the room will be full with wives, brothers, daughters, all eager to learn how to help their veteran struggling with mental illness. 

Edwards says mental illness in veterans can develop in  a variety of forms.

"Some veterans will get up and pace the perimeters, checking there are no dangers around." said Edwards. "They might say, which my husband used to say, don't touch me I might hit you or react, because they've been trained right away to respond."

During the class, participants will also learn about self care and dealing with stress. 

"They become supports for each other." said Edwards. "And they learn how the brain works."

Instructors hope they will empower those who are the closest with those struggling. 

"You know they feel very blamed if their brain isn't working right," said Edwards. "They kind of withdraw, so it's trying to figure out ways to gently but firmly make the family safe and help them understand what's going on."

Edwards hopes they can educate and provide emotional support to as many as they can. 

The six week class starts on Monday, September 25 and runs weekly through October 30. It will be from 6 to 8:30 at the Waverly Area Veterans Post at 1300 4th Street NW. The deadline to register for the class is Thursday, September 7.

To register, contact NAMI Black Hawk County by September 7 at 319-235-5263 or namibh@qwestoffice.net. 

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