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support group for mental illness
for those afflicted and the people close to them

St. William Catholic Church (Vercelli Building) in Waukesha. 440 N Moreland Blvd Waukesha, WI 53188

This is the webpage for 'The Care Connection,' a support group based in Waukesha, WI that meets every week. The group has been going strong for nearly seven years and over three hundred people have been a part of it.

The group exists to help and support everyone whose lives have been affected by mental illness--those who are diagnosed with a mental illness as well as their family and friends. At each meeting, everyone benefits from hearing about the experiences, challenges and successes of both groups. That is made possible by the diversity of those who attend group.

On any given week, there are people who are at all different stages of the recovery process. There are those who have been stable for a long time--people who attend primarily to help others and offer hope for the hopeless. Others who attend are in the midst of the ups and downs most people with a mental illness go through during the recovery process. And there are those who are struggling with their illness greatly and are at one of the lower points of their lives.

The Care Connection is unique because it offers support specifically for friends and family of those with a mental illness. This segment of group is led by Mary--a woman whose husband has had struggles with mental illness over the years. Mary has been with the group for six years. Every week, the entire group meets as a whole, but then splits up into two groups: those afflicted with an illness and the friends and family of those afflicted. The friends and family segment of group helps its members in two ways--first, it helps them learn how to support those close to them who are struggling with a mental illness. At group, we (those of us with the illness) like to say: "you'll never truly understand what living with a mental illness is like, but you can learn to be understanding."

In addition to this segment of group that helps friends and family support those close to them with a mental illness, it offers support for the friends and family members themselves--in a similar way the segment of group for those with a mental illness does. The reality is that being close to someone with a mental illness can be just as much of a struggle as living with an illness itself. Unfortunately, mental illness is not the easiest topic to discuss with most of the people in our lives. Because of that, friends and family often feel hopeless because nothing they do seems to help the person they care about as they continue to struggle with their mental illness. That's what the friends and family segment of group is for--a place where friends and family can support each other, share tactics, offer hope, vent and let out some frustration (because helping someone with a mental illness can be a very frustrating thing to do). The friends and family segment of group is so valuable because it is made up by a group of people who don't necessarily have many people in their lives whom they can talk to about the topic of mental illness. It exists so friends and family of those with a mental illness can realize they are not alone.

In my case, my parents started attending The Care Connection before I did and, for months, they kept asking me to attend. I was stubborn and still struggling mightily with my illness (schizoaffective disorder) at that point in my life. But gradually, week after week, things started getting better in our household as my parents were attending group every week. I was resistant to the idea of attending a support group because, shortly after being released from the hospital, I tried another support group and it almost turned me off from the idea of a support group entirely, but eventually I gave The Care Connection a chance.

The first time I attended The Care Connection, I realized this group was nothing like the one I had previously attended in a matter of minutes. The Care Connection has been led by people who have a mental illness themselves and I found that infinitely valuable. The atmosphere of group is refreshing--we laugh more than we cry, and there's a place for both. New people sometimes ask if they're in the right place because the general vibe of group is light, but the things we discuss are serious. We do not allow the members to wallow in self pity, and that is key. The reason the atmosphere is so light is because the people who attend group genuinely care about each other. It's like we're a family. We're all invested in each other. We're sad when someone else is sad and we're thrilled when someone else is thrilled.

Just as The Care Connection is made up of people at different stages in the recovery process, it is also made up of people of all ages--from teenagers to retirees. And you'd be surprised by how similar--regardless of age--our struggles with our illnesses are. I started attending group nearly six years ago--when I was 21 and had substance abuse issues--and it's no coincidence that I've been sober now for nearly six years. I've been a leader of group for almost two years now, and I believe my age has helped me help out people my own age. In the last year, I've seen seven people who I helped get back in college graduate. When those people first came, they were all depressed and hopeless--they didn't even need to say it, you could just see it. Things like that are why I show up every week and take calls and respond to emails all week.

The Care Connection has helped many young adults get their lives back on track. It's tough to deal with a mental illness as a highschooler or college student. The thing is, being a young adult without a mental illness is hard enough. Young adults are still trying to figure out who they are, and when you add a mental illness into the mix, it's a lot to deal with. Young adults arguably make mistakes and get embarrassed easier than adults do. Mental illness is notorious for causing us to make mistakes and the embarrassment we feel is significantly magnified. When a young adult's mental illness starts kicking in and affecting their behavior, they're left with two options--neither of which are particularly favorable. First, they can talk about their illness. The problem with that is that--a lot of the time--it results in an awkward conversation for the person with the illness and the person without it. Talking about it can lead to frustration, and at times, anger, and that can cause a young adult to make more mistakes and yell about how nobody understands them. The fact of the matter is that our peers without mental illness will never understand what it's like--whether or not they want to talk about it. That can lead to a lonely life and lower self esteem because it feels like nobody cares about them when the truth is that nobody understands them--that's a big difference but it's hard for a young adult to determine if someone doesn't care about them or just doesn't understand them. The other option a young adult is left with is to bottle up everything they're going through about their mental illness. In that case, they assume that nobody cares about them or that nobody understands them, so why bother bringing it up? So, it's hard for a young adult to cope with an illness. That's why The Care Connection can be so helpful for young adults--at group, everyone cares about them and everyone understands them and other young adults at group are doing well, which can give new young adult group members hope.

The Care Connection provides everyone with a confidential, safe environment to discuss the difficult issues they face on a daily basis. Each group is led by trained peer facilitators. Also, the Care Connection periodically hosts speakers who comment on new treatments, the importance of diet and exercise and other current topics. All of the NAMI resources are available through this group.

We used to do a monthly newsletter, which contained articles about mental illness written by people from group, but it's my hope that this website can do that, but better. Below is a link to a newsletter about the topic of support groups.

March 2011

And these are two more of our group's old newsletters:

January 2011
February 2011

The Care Connection meets every Tuesday evening from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM

St. William Catholic Church (Vercelli Building) in Waukesha. 440 N Moreland Blvd Waukesha, WI 53188

Please contact NAMI at (NAMI PHONE)
or call Michael Wycklendt (262-751-9231), Peter Castator (414-506-8751) or Mary Weisman (262-506-8751) for additional information.










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