GAIL WHITE What's in a NAMI? Help with mental illness

When Jim and Kathleen Klasovsky's 14-year-old daughter, Natasha, started acting up in school and at home, they knew it was more than just teen-age rebellion.
Having reared three children before Natasha, they knew what rebellion was -- and how to handle it.
Natasha's behavior was different and completely uncontrollable.
"She was confrontational with everyone," Kathleen says. "She was getting in trouble at school and with friends."
Jim and Kathleen, of Austintown, employed strict discipline at home.
"With our other children, we set the rules and they followed the punishment," Kathleen explains. "With Natasha, the rules worked for a while, then she would completely disregard them."
She began staying out late or not coming home at all.
"I will never forget the first time she disappeared," Kathleen remembers, the hurt and fear still in her voice. "I thought my heart would stop beating."
More disappearances
Natasha disappeared many more times. Sometimes she would leave for a day, other times three.
"She would always call me and tell me she was OK," Kathleen says. "But she would never tell me where she was."
Eventually, one night Natasha sneaked out of the house in the middle of the night and vandalized neighborhood cars.
"She rampaged through the neighborhood," Kathleen says sadly. "We knew she had done it. We called the police. We had to."
Kathleen pauses as her voice quivers. "They handcuffed her, put her in the police car and took her to JJC [Mahoning County Juvenile Justice Center]."
As a mother, Kathleen wanted nothing more than to protect her child, but she knew Natasha needed help.
"This was too big for us to handle," Kathleen concedes.
Natasha spent 110 days at JJC. It was then that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
What it means
Bipolar, formerly called manic depression, swings the afflicted's emotions from one side of the pendulum to the other. The night Natasha rampaged through her neighborhood, she was in a highly manic state.
Jim and Kathleen were both relieved and grieved by the diagnosis.
"You go through a grieving process," Kathleen explains, "when you find out your child has a mental illness."
Although these parents were working through their grief, the relief they felt was short-lived.
"We wanted our daughter to be helped," Kathleen shares with exasperation in her voice.
"If you have a serious medical problem," she says, "you go to a hospital and you are taken care of or referred to those who can help you. With mental illness, the system is not complete."
Kathleen spent hours calling organizations and institutions searching for help for her daughter.
"We went through programs. ..." Kathleen rolls her eyes thinking of all the avenues they tried.
Ray of hope
Jim and Kathleen found their greatest ray of hope at Families in Touch, NAMI of the Mahoning Valley.
NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, has a support group every month and a 12-week-long, Family-to-Family class for those dealing with a mentally ill loved one.
"You can sit there and say anything you want to say, and they understand," Kathleen explains.
"Friends and family will say, 'Maybe you should try this or that,'" Kathleen says. "Our NAMI family won't say that. They know."
The Klasovskys also found direction for their daughter. Today, through medication, counseling and love, Natasha is doing well.
Kathleen has been asked to participate on the Juvenile Justice Community Advisory Board, which provides recommendations for the juvenile justice system.
"They are beginning to recognize what is going on with some of these children and provide help for them," Kathleen says with a smile. "This is what I would have wanted when my daughter was going through this."
XFor more information about NAMI, call (330) 747-2696.

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