When someone is diagnosed with a mental illness, their family and friends sometimes are given little guidance in how to deal with the stress and emotions that can come with it.
The stigma attached to mental illness can compound these problems.
Local staff with Can-Help, a program of the Canadian Mental Health Association, now are offering a Family Support Network to help friends and family learn about mental health recovery and how to support their loved one.
“The whole series is based on the family taking care of themselves,” said Kathleen Morrison, a peer support specialist with Can-Help.
Morrison and Christina Hahkala, a family liaison worker with Can-Help, will be facilitating the program together.
The program was developed by Karyn Baker and Anne Thompson of the Family Outreach and Response Program in Toronto back in 2001.
Hahkala travelled to Toronto in February for the training while Morrison received hers in Thunder Bay.
They will begin by offering the group in Fort Frances, but Hahkala eventually will travel to communities across the region, including Atikokan, Dryden, Kenora, Red Lake, and Sioux Lookout, to offer the program there.
The Family Support Network is a free, confidential 10-week program running every Tuesday from 7-9 p.m. from April 24-June 26 at the CMHA office (612 Portage Ave.)
Both women stressed confidentiality is an important component to the program.
“There’s a lot of shame and blame and guilt. A lot of families have never opened up to admit there’s a mental illness in their family,” Morrison said.
“Discrimination keeps people from coming out to get help,” echoed Hahkala.
The program teaches people “different approaches to helping their loved one,” she added.
This includes changes in language and perception.
The casual use of words like “crazy” and “nuts” can be hurtful to people who have been diagnosed with mental illness, and are not conducive to recovery.
“It’s about using a recovery-hopeful language,” Morrison explained. “The focus is off that person and instead, ‘What can I do to help me to stay well?’
“Take care of yourself. Turn your language around. Turn your thinking around,” she added.
“People get wrapped up in the life experiences that come when someone has a mental illness,” Morrison continued. “This series teaches that every adult has the right to make their own choices.”
This includes a person’s right to decide whether or not they want to take medication to treat their illness.
Hahkala noted family members sometimes can put pressure on their loved one to follow a certain course of action in their treatment, which can lead to fights or even a refusal to communicate.
“They can still have support for themselves, even if they’re not in contact” with their loved one, she said.
Diagnosis of a mental illness can be difficult for family members—and can induce different reactions.
“Parents go into grieving. That grieving process has to be taken care of,” Morrison said.
The Family Support Network gives people an opportunity to share their struggles and help each other through them.
“They form a network of like-minded people there to encourage and help their family members or friends to grow,” she added.
The program has met with great success in Toronto and other parts of the province.
“A lot of people have gone through to go on and start their own groups,” Morrison noted.
For more information about the Family Support Network, contact Hahkala at 274-2347 ext. 27.