When a loved one is diagnosed with mental illness, the most important thing isn’t finding out what caused it, said Fern Fine, of Ventnor.

“It’s the coping strategies and treatment that are the most important,” said the 52-year-old mother of an adult son diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a high-functioning form of schizophrenia.

Fine is a volunteer teacher with the National Alliance for Mental Illness’s Atlantic County Chapter. She and others conduct family-to-family classes that cover the basic information families need to help a loved one facing schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

She knows how important education is. Several years ago, she and her husband, Scott, thought her son had just a drug problem, and dealt with it through “tough love,” forcing him from their home. After he was incarcerated and diagnosed, they discovered he had a mental illness. They don’t want others to make the same mistake, she said.

“A mentally ill person needs structure, nurturing and love and support that only a family can give them,” she said. With education, family members can stay

involved without becoming overwhelmed, she said.

Part of it is the group dynamic of the classes.

“Knowing other people have a similar situation mkes it much more tolerable,” she said. “Some days are laden with sorrow and loss, that’s part of it. But I pick myself up and get in a conversation the next day with other people.”

Cape Regional Medical Center therapy dog retires

Cape Regional Medical Center’s first therapy dog, Frosty, retired last month after eight years of offering affection and a calming influence to patients. At more than 14 years old, Frosty’s mobility is impaired, a hospital spokesperson said.

Frosty, owned by Ellen Lomax, of Cape May Court House, was the first dog in the hospital’s Pet Therapy Program, which began in 2007.

Today the program has three therapy dogs — Maddie, Riley and Brealey — who visit patients with owners/handlers Karen Wadding, Kiki Miller, and Cindy Fineberg, all of Cape May Court House.

Seashore Gardens Foundation to honor three

The Zisman Seashore Gardens Foundation will honor Shelley Bernstein, of Egg Harbor Township, for leadership, and Liane P. and Lloyd D. Levenson, of Margate, for community service, at its gala Aug. 23 at the Seashore Gardens Living Center in Galloway Township. Tickets are $200 at www.seashoregala.org/

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post: