The fifth Love You Forever workshop, held Saturday November 3rd, was a busy and emotional day. To those participants who are fairly new to the role of supporting a family member with serious mental illness, we hope you found the information useful. Perhaps more importantly, you hopefully connected with others who share a common burden and thereby lightened your load – if even just a little.

We know this is a club you wouldn’t want to join if you didn’t have to. None of us would have chosen this path for our loved one, but nevertheless it’s the road that’s been chosen for us. By traveling together, we can help each other by sharing knowledge, tips and emotional support. The comment we hear the most about these events is, “I no longer feel alone in what I’m going through.”

Many questions were asked, which unfortunately don’t have easy answers. However, those of us who have been on this path a bit longer are willing to help. It wasn’t that long ago that we had the same questions – and while we may not have found the answers yet, we’re working on smoothing out the path.

Some of the questions we heard most were:

  1. Am I doing the right thing for my loved one?
  2. Where can I learn about my family member’s illness?
  3. Why is it so hard to get help?

Again, there are no easy answers, but here are some condensed responses:

  1. The nature of serious mental illness, complexities of the mental health “system” and the accompanying stress on family members all contribute to difficulties in making informed decisions. A helpful approach is to find a support group for both emotional and educational support. Our closed Facebook group also offers a forum for discussion, and you can also get involved in other ways.
  2. There’s still much unknown about serious mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder and other related illnesses. More research needs to be done in these areas. For family members, finding credible sources of information can be difficult; we’ve tried to provide links to the most credible books, videos and online resources.
  3. Our society takes a woefully inadequate approach to serious mental illness. Misunderstandings abound; practice, policies and legislation often fail to deal with it appropriately. Our work with Alberta Health Services in the Edmonton zone seems to be leading to some improvements. We’ll continue trying to get families’ viewpoints recognized at all levels.

 

FAMI-Alberta is an entirely volunteer-run network of family members. It started just two years ago after the first Love You Forever workshop. With support from Canadian Mental Health Association-Edmonton, a dedicated core group of volunteers has continued to find more ways to reach out to others to provide support. We’ve made our cornerstone program, the Love You Forever workshops, a twice-yearly event. A year ago we launched this website. We’ve made some inroads with Alberta Health Services through staff training.

As long as the need exists – and there’s no sign of it abating – we’ll continue to be a voice for change and support for one another.