NAMI extends reach with crisis hotline

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SANDPOINT — The National Alliance on Mental Illness Far North's primary focus last year was to extend its reach to those experiencing a mental health crisis by providing an after-hours hotline in partnership with North Idaho Crisis Services.

Beginning last January, the free hotline has successfully made licensed mental health clinicians available to individuals of Bonner and Boundary counties. Although it is aimed at the two northern most Idaho counties, Catherine Perusse, NAMI board member and NICS clinical director, said nobody is turned away. Perusse said the organization has received calls from people in Montana and Washington as well.

Though the clinician may not be very knowledgeable about local resources available in those areas, they will help in any way they can.

An individual crisis can also include just about anything. In North Idaho, Perusse said, if someone runs out of firewood at the end of October, that is a crisis.

"Living here in Bonner County, we all know about some of those local resources that would not be found or available on a state or national hotline level," Perusse said.

The annual numbers were not available yet for the crisis line when Perusse spoke with the Daily Bee last Friday, but she said the hotline averaged six to 10 calls per month. Some were suicide calls, she said, and the goal of the clinician with any call is to quickly determine what the proper response is — whether the individual needs hospitalization, whether the clinician needs to notify the police right away, or whether they simply need to talk with them, even if it is for several hours.

The after-hours line is available between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m., Monday through Friday, and 24 hours on weekends and holidays. Anyone suffering through a crisis during those hours should call 208-946-5595.

NAMI is a national organizations with affiliates across the country, such as the Far North affiliate. The local affiliate has been in existence since 2007. Perusse said it is a grassroots organization comprised of individuals who live with mental illness, their family or loved ones.

"It is a stressful thing to live with mental illness anyway, but when there aren't adequate or appropriate services, that just multiplies it exponentially," Perusse said.

She said some members live with mental illness themselves, with types of mental illness ranging from schizophrenia to depression, as well as several others. Perusse has three children who have suffered with depression and has been on the board since 2008. She said parents become members of NAMI often for the support of other parents who are going through the same thing with their own children.

"This give parents and individuals with mental illness a really safe place to talk about their child, or the adult child to talk about overprotective parents — it goes both ways," Perusse said.

NAMI Far North also hosts a "Family to Family" course once a year, sometimes twice, Perusse said, that provides family education on mental illness, including presentations, discussions and interactive exercises.

"That is a really exceptional course that is taught for family members who have someone in their family who has been diagnosed with mental illness," Perusse said. "Because unless you have been down that road, you don't really know all that stuff."

The 2017 "Family to Family" course has not been scheduled yet, but those who would like information or to be on the waiting list can call the NAMI information line at 208-597-2047.

NAMI also holds monthly meetings the third Wednesday of every month except for December at Bonner General Hospital. Typically, an educational speaker will present for the first hour. For the second hour, the group is split into two support groups, one for those suffering with mental illness and one for family or loved ones of those suffering with mental illness.

Online information: namifarnorth.org or northidahocrisis.org

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