When Paula Pollei’s 14-year-old twin daughters were diagnosed with schizophrenia, doctors told her it was the worst case they had ever seen. But in the girls’ situation, a chemical imbalance in their brains responded well to medication.
Then at the age of 18, they and Pollei started attending National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, meetings in Temple to gain support and information.
“One of the biggest benefits from the group is talking with people going through similar issues, asking them questions and getting answers,” said Pollei, a Temple resident.
Now that support is coming to Killeen starting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 9, when a new chapter of NAMI-Texas will hold support group meetings at New Dawn Services, a counseling service at 2300 E. Rancier Ave. The free meetings are open to anyone dealing with mental illness issues, caregivers and those interested in learning more. All information discussed in the meetings is kept confidential.
Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It affects all ages, genders, races and educational, social and economic groups. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adults in the U.S., or 43.4 million, experience mental illness in a given year. The figures for youth are also staggering, about 21 percent for ages 13 to 18 and 13 percent for children ages 8 to 15.
NAMI Killeen group coordinator Pat Jolly said a stigma remains about mental illness, which is often called the invisible disease because people suffering with it are reluctant to speak about it.
“It’s not something you can just talk about with most people, so NAMI tries to give people a comfortable place to go when they don’t know where to turn,” said Jolly.
Knowing where to get help was the first step for Paula Pollei who felt lost when faced with her daughters’ illness. “It’s very confusing when you first get involved since the average person doesn’t know anything about mental illness. Having people who understand my experience is great and I’ve learned so much from NAMI through the years.” Her daughters, now 30, still attend some meetings, while Pollei attends regularly and is a Temple chapter member.
NAMI was founded by volunteers in 1979 and today is the nation’s largest nonprofit mental health organization. It advocates for access to services, treatment, support and research and in raising awareness and in building a community of hope for those in need.
As the Killeen area grows, so does the need for mental illness services, said Pollei. “We have a lot of people call the Temple chapter saying they would attend if a group was closer to them, so this new chapter will give people here an avenue to address their unique mental illness issues.”
For information, call Pat Jolly, NAMI Killeen coordinator at 254-698-1204.