Education and support are key to helping families whose loved ones are struggling with severe mental illness.
During the month of October — Mental Health Awareness Month — a local organization is providing an online course to help local families understand mental illness and how to navigate the system in getting help for their loved ones.
“The course will help cast some light on their situation and bring them from a place of confusion and despair to a place of hope where they feel supported,” said Shirley Chan, vice-president of the Pathways Serious Mental Illness Society.
The society is offering the Family to Family course, an eight-week education program taught by trained family members who have an ill relative and years of navigating the health system.
Topics covered include schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, clinical depression, anxiety and the symptoms. It will also discuss medications and communications, problem solving, advice on working with the system and tips to help caregivers look after themselves.
The next course runs in October and takes place on Zoom weekly from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Participants should be able to commit for the entire eight weeks. Registration is currently open but if it’s filled, people can still join a support group and register for the next session of the Family to Family course, expected to take place in January.
Chan said it’s through the support of others who’ve gone through the system that helped her and her husband deal with the situation when her daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and later, also bi-polar disorder.
Now, after years of struggle, their daughter is in supportive housing, but it wasn’t easy to navigate the system. First Chan and her husband had to understand what was happening to their daughter.
With the Family to Family course, family members, whether it be a sibling, spouse, son or daughter, will gain insight into the disease, Chan said, and ways to get help, especially now during COVID-19 when some services are more difficult to obtain.
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