July 2, 2013

Mental-health support group available locally

By JEFF MEYERS Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Area residents living with mental health challenges can now find support in a new program being offered locally.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness-Champlain Valley has initiated a weekly support group for people with a wide range of challenges, including bipolar disorders, depression and schizophrenia.

NAMI Connection, facilitated by people who share the same concerns and challenges as participants, provides an atmosphere that offers respect, understanding, encouragement and hope in a setting that is casual and relaxed.

“We didn’t have a (Connection) group locally,” said Jennifer Quaglietta-Tomolillo, a member of the NAMI-CV Board of Directors and facilitator for the new group.

“I attended a group meeting in Vermont and felt it would be a good opportunity to offer the program here,” she added.

Attending a Connection meeting outside the area also provided Quaglietta-Tomolillo with training she would need to facilitate meetings locally.

“I like the idea that we can offer a place where people can come and talk and get support,” she said.

Quaglietta-Tomolillo has been facilitating other support groups for NAMI-CV, and that experience has also enabled her to become co-facilitator for the Connection group along with her husband, Richard Tomolillo.

“This group is a little different than other groups (NAMI) facilitate,” she said. “We don’t keep numbers or records. We don’t write down identifiers (such as names and ages) of participants.

“It’s not about what people come to the meeting; it’s about feeling comfortable.”

All information discussed during the group meetings is confidential. Participants can share as little or as much personal information as they wish, Quaglietta-Tomolillo said.

The meetings follow a structural routine but without an educated format. Each participant has one minute to introduce him or herself, and then the group turns to whatever topic is of interest at that time.

“We talk about things here and now,” Quaglietta-Tomolillo said. “I’m not a psychologist. I can’t analyze their past.

“After the one-minute introduction, if most people are interested in depression, then that’s what we’ll talk about. I’ll do little talking. I’ll ask others what they’ve done to get the group talking.”

The meetings are held from noon to 1:30 p.m. each Monday at Plattsburgh Public Library’s 2nd Floor Meeting Room. Mandatory attendance is not required; a participant can come one week, skip the next and return for the third week, Quaglietta-Tomolillo said.

The group started in early June, and between six and eight participants have come each week, she added.

“Maybe you’ve had a stressful day,” she said. “You may want to come in and talk about that, receive some insight from people who’ve dealt with it with success.

“We’re not here to judge. Everyone (in attendance) has lived it. We can all learn from one another.”

Quaglietta-Tomolillo first visited NAMI-CV in 2007 when she was having anxiety and panic attacks. She was diagnosed with a post-traumatic stress disorder and an anxiety disorder.

From those first connections of support, she has become involved as a regular facilitator, board member and now president of the board.

Quaglietta-Tomolillo’s teenage daughter, Janina Quaglietta, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has received positive support from attending the meetings.

“I thought it was pretty cool,” she said of meeting two participants who shared her condition.

“The only other person I met (with bipolar disorder) before coming here was completely different from the two women I met here,” she added. “They were friendly and gave advice. The other person was rude and mean. This gave me a different outlook on being bipolar.”

NAMI is actively involved in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness and in debunking the myths that are often associated with mental illness, including the myth that psychiatric disorders are not true medical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

The fact is that brain disorders are legitimate medical illnesses that can be treated effectively.

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TO LEARN MORE NAMI Connection meetings are held from noon to 1:30 p.m. Mondays at the Plattsburgh Public Library's 2nd Floor Meeting Room. The meetings are free and confidential. For more information, call 561-2685 or visit