Those who have or suspect a family member has a mental illness can find help and education in a class offered by a local mental illness support group.

Family-to-Family is a free 12-week course offered by the Hays chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It will begin Jan. 12 and meet from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday evenings through March 30 at the Center for Life Experiences, 2900 Hall.

Registration can be completed by calling (785) 259-6859. More information on the course can be found at www.nami.org/familytofamily.

Mary Akins and Gina Anderson will teach the course, which has been offered for three years, Akins said. She and Anderson received training through NAMI in Topeka to teach the classes.

Those who sign up for the course will want to commit to all 12 classes, Akins said.

“The pieces will all come together,” she said.

Topics include how to manage crises, solve problems and communicate effectively, self-care and stress management, current treatments for mental illness and how mental illness affects the family, according to the NAMI website.

“We will also have workshops on problem-solving,” Akins said. “If you’re seeing the same problem over and over and over again, we have a workshop on that so you can get out of the stuckness. And then we have another one on communication. Sometimes it is so hard to communicate with those who are mentally ill,” she said.

Akins learned of NAMI from dealing with a family member suffering from depression. When she moved to Hays from Pittsburg and found the class was not offered here, she decided to go through the training.

“We are family members as well. We are family members, and we are teaching family members. We get it. We understand,” she said.

One of the most important things the course teaches those facing a family member with mental illness is that they are not alone, Akins said.

“The stigma is so huge that no one wants to admit they have this or that their loved one has this. Society isn’t accepting of this,” she said.

“NAMI’s got good support. But you have got to be able to walk through the door and admit that you need that, and that’s so difficult. That’s the hardest thing, acceptance,” she said.

“What the people in the class have found is acceptance of each other. It’s powerful. They find support. They go from fear and tears to confidence and support to hope,” she said.

NAMI also offers free meetings at 6 p.m. on the first Monday of each month at the Center for Life Experiences that are open to the public. Two support groups meet at that time — one for family members and one for those suffering from mental illness. The meetings also offer educational information.

There is also a free library with books, magazines and videos that is free and open to the public.