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Shining a new light on mental illness
Family struggling with mental illness finds support, strength in area classes

 Lauren's parents, Ron and Linda Ball, have volunteered to teach a course this fall at Mary Washington Hospital for families or caregivers of people with mental illness.
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Date published: 8/26/2010


Ron Ball will never forget the phone call that changed his life.

He was at a business party when his cell phone rang. His wife said, "You have to get home right now."

He immediately left the party, and when Ball got to his Northern Virginia residence, he saw police cars and ambulances, his youngest daughter with tubes hooked to her.

"It rocks your world," he said. "Your whole world changes in that moment, and all of your priorities change."

Until that call, Ball would have considered his life comfortable: a successful career, a strong marriage and two beautiful daughters. But that day, he learned his youngest daughter, 16-year-old Lauren, no longer wanted to live. She'd tried to end her own life.

For Lauren, the suicide attempt was part of a five-year-long struggle.

She was in sixth grade when things started to change. Thoughts would race through her head, so fast she sometimes couldn't keep up. She thought about death a lot. She wrote dark poetry.

Some days, Lauren felt on top of the world, full of energy and plans. But within a few days, she would be so tired she couldn't get out of bed, and so sad she didn't really want to.

"I just felt like I was in a deep, dark hole," Lauren said.

She had trouble with school, with friends. She got in fights with her parents.

Eventually, Lauren said, she couldn't handle it anymore.

She wanted the racing thoughts and the roller coaster emotions to stop, so she tried to kill herself.

Lauren was hospitalized, received treatment and took medications.

"I went to therapists and psychiatrists, but it seemed to never work for me," Lauren said.

At 19, she attempted suicide again. Another hospital stay, more doctors and medicine followed.

Finally, two years ago, when Lauren was 23 and living in California, doctors diagnosed her with bipolar disorder, a mental illness characterized by extreme changes in mood and energy.

They also told her about a support group called National Alliance on Mental Illness. In more than seven years of treatment and countless psychiatrists and therapists, this was the first time the Ball family had heard of NAMI.

Lauren found her local chapter. She started participating in the annual NAMI walk to raise money for mental illness research and support.

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NAMI Rappahannock will offer two courses this fall, Family to Family and Peer to Peer. WHAT: Family to Family classes, for families or caregivers of people with mental illness WHEN: Monday evenings, Sept. 13 through Nov. 29 WHERE: Mary Washington Hospital HOW: To register, contact Prudence Hopkins at 540/220-8701 or hopkinspr@hot mail.com or David Vaughn at 540/479-3044 or dfvaughn@cox.net. WHAT: Peer to Peer classes, for adults with mental illness WHEN: Mornings, starting in early September WHERE: Kenmore Club HOW: To register, contact Ed Spooner at 540/633-2526 or yarncat@verizon.net or Brian Jackson at 540/310-0059 or brndjk@aol.com.

The one-hour presentations share personal stories of living with mental illness. Faith groups, civic organizations or other groups can learn more about scheduling a presentation by contacting David Vaughn at 540/479-3044 or dfvaughn@cox.net.