As family members, we know that trying to help someone with serious mental illness is a difficult, often impossible task. We feel shut out of medical decisions, and often don’t know where to turn for advice or help. We still see instances where discharge planning is incomplete, where lack of space means long waits for treatment, where our loved ones fall through the cracks (or perhaps more realistically, the chasms) in our mental health “system.”

There are some glimmers of hope, however. Several new initiatives which began in 2017 are starting to show some promise in 2018 – and are including needed input from family members.

Recovery College – a joint initiative between AHS, CMHA-ER, e4c and Prosper Place – is in the planning stages with an optimistic start date of April. This will offer a series of “courses” to those with lived experience and their family members that will help on the recovery journey. There are five working groups getting this organized, and family members are represented on each group. (Read about Recovery Colleges in Calgary and Ontario).

Valuing Mental Health – the mental health review, as described in the Valuing Mental Health report and the follow-up document, Next Steps, is continuing in 2018. The province-wide advisory committee – about 250 members from across Alberta representing a wide variety of organizations – now has representation from families of those with serious mental illness. We’re only two voices among many, but this is up from a single voice last year.

Community Mental Health Action Plan – this is an initiative by numerous organizations in the Edmonton region, looking at ways to improve mental health services and respond to the mental health review. There were a few of us at the last gathering in the fall, and we continue to dialogue with them on several initiatives.

ACCESS Open Minds – a pan-Canadian research initiative that aims to improve access to mental health and addiction services for youth aged 11-25 years – opened a site in Edmonton last year. The staff includes family members, who can provide a family perspective and help other families.

We continue to work with the Edmonton zone of AHS-Addiction and Mental Health on other initiatives as they arise. CMHA-ER continues to support FAMI in many ways. The FAMI website, facebook group and twitter feed also provide a presence so others know we’re here to assist, both on an individual and cross-organizational level.

Involvement in these initiatives has its own occasional challenges and frustrations, but we continue in the hope that we can make a difference for those with serious mental illness and their family members who want to help them.