The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) launched Mental Health Resources for Service Members, Veterans and their Families (HFMHR) in time for Veterans Day, 2021.
The original 6-session NAMI Homefront (HF) program was developed to meet the unique needs of families of service members and veterans with mental health conditions. It is an adaptation of the evidence-based NAMI Family-to-Family program that is taught across the country by family members who have a relative living with mental illness, also referred to as a brain disorder. Early in the program’s launch, NAMI conducted research and found people who completed the course reported having increased feelings of empowerment, developed new coping skills and furthered their knowledge of mental illness. They also reported decreased feelings of distress.
As good as this was, the in-person classes had limitations. Stigma surrounding mental health conditions often made it difficult for family members to commit to an in-person NAMI HF class — especially those whose loved ones were on active duty. In addition to a fear of judgment, families faced the usual difficulties in making any plans — finding childcare, traveling to and from a location such as a VA facility, and managing the time spent away from home and family.
Listening to NAMI HF leaders report their disappointment in having to cancel classes due to low enrollment, no enrollment and no-shows motivated NAMI to try to reach as many people as possible with this program. The first step was finding ways to deliver this critical information to every family member, caregiver and friend of service members and veterans that allowed some anonymity and convenience.
NAMI ADDS AN ONLINE FORMAT OF NAMI HOMEFRONT
In 2015, NAMI added a live-taught online option of NAMI HF in the hopes of reaching families who couldn’t attend in-person classes. With the ability to participate in an online class that offered some anonymity, the participation numbers increased. In response, NAMI trained more leaders to conduct the classes in an online format and began offering four classes per quarter —one in each time zone throughout the U.S. The new online classes continually filled each quarter, dropout rates decreased and participants made connections that lasted beyond the length of class, even starting online groups to keep in touch with each other.
In 2016, NAMI partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) through a Memorandum of Understand (MOU) to continue and expand the partnership between NAMI and Veterans Health Administration for the purpose of offering two NAMI education programs, including NAMI Homefront. Although the official MOU has expired, NAMI and the VA continue to partner and work closely together to bring the online version of the course to the families of the veterans in their care.
As helpful as NAMI HF Online is to military families, some have continued to run into barriers that kept them from attending. While family members in the continental U.S. sat on beds, patted children’s backs and wore headphones during classes, military families stationed overseas couldn’t participate without logging in at inconvenient hours.
The focus on family members rather than service members themselves also posed a problem. When service members and veterans registered and discovered that NAMI HF was designed specifically for family members, they were disappointed or even angry and resentful.
Although programs for service members and veterans may have been readily available through the VA and other organizations, NAMI continued to receive requests to provide programs and resources for this population. NAMI already had the HF program for caregivers, so we looked at how we could provide education for everyone who ever wore the uniform of the United States military.
AN ONLINE, ON-DEMAND SITE WITH MULTIPLE MENTAL HEALTH TOOLS FOR THE ENTIRE MILITARY COMMUNITY
To achieve this goal of expanding resources to service members and veterans — not just their family members — NAMI developed NAMI Homefront Mental Health Resources for Military Service Members, Veterans and Their Families. This online resource center, available in an eLearning format, is designed to educate and empower service members, veterans and their families. The resources cover topics such as mental health conditions, treatment options, approaches to increase overall wellness, transitioning from military to civilian life and more.
In the last few years, NAMI Homefront has expanded to reach more people and evolve to better meet their needs. From creating an online version of the program to our most recent project — developing a resource library that is tailored to service members and veterans themselves — NAMI’s goal is to ensure that the military community can access mental health-related information, tools and resources when and where they need it.
Unlike NAMI HF in-person classes and NAMI HF live-taught online classes, this new format is not an actual course. The service member and veteran materials for this new initiative are pulled from other NAMI programs, such as NAMI Peer-to-Peer, with added military language, videos and resources. Perhaps most importantly, this new format is accessible at any time, allowing participants stationed and working outside of the United States to access the material at their convenience.
Not long after launching the NAMI HFMHR website, NAMI received the following email from a Desert Storm combat veteran:
“I wanted to write and commend you and your team for the excellent NAMI Homefront Program…. impressed me the most was how the program spoke to both the veteran and the family members, who also serve, to help explain why and what the veteran is going through while at the same time instilling hope and easing fears. I also noticed the program explained aspects of the Battlemind to any educational level and yet did not ‘talk down’ to the reader…”
During the exploration of the NAMI HFMHR website, the NAMI Helpline chat is available Monday – Friday 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. Eastern. A NAMI Helpline staff member recently spoke to an Army veteran who was having thoughts of suicide. After a lengthy discussion with the veteran encouraging him to seek therapy and providing him with job resources, he thanked the Helpline staff member, stating, “Thank you…this really means a lot…. I’m about to cry…”
Now, not only is NAMI Homefront another step in the right direction for service member families, caregivers and friends, NAMI is creating resources that extend to the service members and veterans themselves. Even more, these resources will be available 24/7 and across borders.
To register for NAMI Homefront Mental Health Resources: https://homefrontresources.nami.org/