Mental illness can cause such stress in a family. Loved ones often feel helpless. Those outside the family unit can become distant because they don't understand. This week's 7everyday Hero Pam Haynes is changing that.
One way is through NAMI Walks Colorado, which raises awareness about mental illness. NAMI stands for National Alliance on Mental Illness, and it educates the public and provides a lifeline for families feeling overwhelmed.
"I lived in fear of the unknown," said Haynes.
She discovered NAMI when loved ones faced mental illness.She was so impressed she's been volunteering for the organization since 2005.
"I didn't know if I could handle it. Didn't know if I could help. And I felt responsible in some way. And this organization breaks through all that stigma," said Haynes.
It's quite common for families to feel isolated, afraid and helpless when they first learn someone they love is diagnosed with a mental illness.
"We walked out of that hospital and turned and looked at the window where he was and we just cried. We didn't know what to do," said Norman Bertelsen whose son has been diagnosed with a mental illness.
"If there's anyway I can give them a little shred of hope that it's not as horrible as they may feel," said Haynes.
That's exactly what NAMI offers. Volunteers, like Haynes, offer firsthand experience in free classes for families.
"People walk out of that class and say, 'I had no idea there was this kind of support available,'" said Bertelsen.
"I just can't tell you what a difference she makes in what the families feel after they leave her class," said Cheri Bishop, director of education programs for NAMI.
Haynes gets calls for help daily, but she feels her full-time volunteering is a privilege.
"I don't even look at it as work. I meet the most wonderful people," said Haynes.
Copyright Report a typo or inaccuracyIf you have a news tip or a follow-up to this story, e-mail us.Copyright 2011 by TheDenverChannel.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.