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Class helps parents care for children with mental illness

l-r Diane and her husband Bernie Marinelli in a classroom at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Conyers.

l-r Diane and her husband Bernie Marinelli in a classroom at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Conyers.

Diane Marinelli said she noticed symptoms of her son's mental health problems at an early age. She said it seemed as if his terrible 2's never quite ended. He had trouble transitioning and would fall into rages. He had periods where he would be fine, she said, but then something would trigger a mood change.

"He had difficulty controlling his emotions and dealing with the normal things kids have to deal with," Marinelli said. "We went for years with behavior problems before we sought professional help and I think that's pretty common."

At age 9, school officials expressed concern about his behavior and recommended he see a counselor. Mental health experts determined that Diane and Bernie Marinelli's son suffered from bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, characterized by extreme shifts in mood from being high-energy and happy to depressed and angry.

"It can be very trying for the family to deal with and the school as well but it is treatable," Diane said.

With their son now an adult, the Marinellis want to reach out to other families struggling with mental illness and offer them resources they didn't have for their son. The couple is volunteering to teach free classes to the public on how parents can care for their young children and adolescents coping with mental illness.

The classes are sponsored through the Georgia Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the six sessions will run each Saturday, from Aug. 11 to Sept. 22 (excluding Labor Day) from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at St. Pius X Catholic Church, 2621 Ga. Highway 20 in Conyers, in room 13-15.

NAMI trained Diane Marinelli to instruct the classes, which are aimed at children with attention deficit disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, schizophrenia and substance abuse disorders.

Families of children with mental health problems wrote the curriculum which covers how mental illnesses are brain disorders and not the fault of families; the biology of mental illness and getting a correct diagnosis; treatment options including medications; the family burden of mental illness, what to do during times of crisis and the importance of communication and problem solving skills; tips for handling challenging behavior; record keeping; advocacy, and the role of the mental health system and school system in treating children with mental illness.

Marinelli said getting the proper diagnosis and treatment are the two top concerns for parents.

"These conditions are very hard to diagnose, especially in young children and often times they are not even aware that the behavior that the children are exhibiting are symptoms of an illness," said Marinelli, who is also a trained special education advocate through the Parent Leadership Support Project of the Georgia Advocacy Office.

"It could take a while before you could think 'We have a psychological problem,' and then it's trial and error in getting it stabilized."

Marinelli said the classes are open to parents and caretakers of those children who have been diagnosed and even those who suspect their children might have mental illness.

"We want to be able to share what we've learned. It's so important as a parent to have this information and to take care of themselves as well as their child," said Marinelli, who added that she would like to offer the class twice a year in Rockdale County.

For more information and to register for the class, call Diane Marinelli at 678-314-1017 or email vdianem@gmail.com. Registration is required as space is limited. For more information on mental health, call Georgia NAMI at 770-234-0855 or visit www.namigaorg.