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Area Trio Opening Dialogue On Mental Illness
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Volunteers and Facilitators, front to back: Allison Clark, Judy Kropp and Joyce Hickman share the benefits and opportunities the group offers to Valley and Oakdale residents. Teresa Hammond/The Leader

One in four adults, or approximately 61.5 million Americans, have an experience with mental illness in a given year. With a current estimated population of over 21,000 within the Oakdale City limits that’s over 5,000 Oakdale community members who will be affected by mental illness in some way.

These statistics are hardly staggering or shocking to NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) volunteers and group facilitators Allison Clark, Judy Kropp or Joyce Hickman. The three-woman team offer an abundance of both knowledge and passion for a resource they find not only valuable but life changing.

NAMI cites itself as the “largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. Members of NAMI are families, friends and people living with mental illness such as major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder.”

Both Kropp and Hickman bring personal experience to the table as mothers of children with mental illness, as well as other family connections.

”My son thought that he was going to die and he was talking suicide,” Hickman said of her son’s early detection at the age of 20. “So, I looked in the Bible. I didn’t find anything on suicide. So, I went to the pastor of our church and they had a flier for NAMI. Two weeks after his crisis, I’m in NAMI.”

“We’re always outreaching if we can,” Kropp said of the group and its members, recognizing its need for a larger presence in local churches and high schools.

Kropp currently addresses groups at high school and college campuses in the Modesto and Valley areas.

“One of the statistics that is really good to tell is that three-quarters of people that develop a mental illness start between 15 and 25,” Hickman said. “That’s why they have such problems in the schools, because they start developing schizophrenia in high school. Some are delayed until when they get to college. That’s why they (NAMI) like to address high schools.”

NAMI offers a variety of weekly support groups, as well as recurring classes, all which are free to the community.

“Don’t be afraid,” Clark said of her hope for those in need of the assistance.

Clark speaks from both personal experience as a person who lives with mental illness, as well as family members who have been challenged by it.

“Don’t let the stigma keep you away,” she continued. “For consumers (i.e.: clients), are usually in crisis mode. They’re having trouble with their illness. Having problems socializing. Having problems within themselves. They’re just floundering out there. It’s a place for them to come.”

“Most don’t know or acknowledge the fact that they have a mental illness,” Clark stated. “Getting them to come to these meetings is a challenge but once we get them there they become believers. They know we’re a friendly place.”

Clark believes so strongly in the positive effects of NAMI group meetings that she has completed training and secured a location to host monthly meetings for a new “Connections Group” in Oakdale. The new group will address the needs of persons in search of a safe place to express the problems they may be facing with their illness among understanding peers.

The first Connections Group Meeting will be hosted Tuesday, April 14 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Community Room of the Oakdale Library. A second meeting will be hosted on April 28 at the same time and place. Beginning in May the group will meet the first and third Tuesday of each month.

Kropp also facilitates a monthly Family Support Group the first Wednesday of every month from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Family Support Network. She is also a firm believer and advocate for the pre-scheduled Family to Family Classes offered by the organization.

“They learn about a different aspect of mental illness from week to week,” Kropp said. “It’s not a drop in class. People need to sign up ahead of time and based on interest a class is put together.”

Family to Family Classes are 12 weeks in duration and are free to the community.

For additional information on NAMI, its services and programs visit For information on local classes and services call Clark at 848-2161, Kropp at 480-0387 or the NAMI local office at 558-4555.