Often, the impact of a mental illness goes beyond the person dealing with the condition. Family members have to find ways to support a loved one who’s struggling, while tending to their own needs.
That’s where Elaine Paton comes in. She’s a family navigator in GRH’s mental health and addictions program.
Elaine has a strong handle on the needs of families. She’s supported two of her children through mental health and addictions care.
Now, she’s lending a hand to families facing the same journey that her family dealt with.
When would a family come to you for help?
Families come to me for help most often when they cannot get their ill family member into appropriate treatment that is effective. They also connect with me at transition points like discharge from hospital because they want to know what is out in the community to support their loved one, especially if the services they are referred to from hospital have a wait list.
What challenges do families face as they support a loved one with a mental illness?
The greatest challenge is that the person may not have insight into the illness, so they do not believe they are ill and need help. This is stressful because most treatment is voluntary and accessing treatment if the person is unwilling and not a threat to themselves or others or unable to care for themselves is almost impossible.
Many individuals who could be helped early cannot be because of this and so the entire family has to get to a crisis level before the system offers help.
How do you help families?
As a mother of two offspring with mental health and addictions issues, I listen to the stories of what families have been through and what they are dealing with. I help them to understand what the ill person is experiencing and how the family can support them productively.
I encourage families to connect with the appropriate mental health services. Generally that would be Here 24/7, coming to the emergency department or getting a Form 2 from the justice of the peace to have someone brought to the hospital by police for assessment.
I encourage families to take the mental health education series or the concurrent disorder (when a patient is dealing with both mental health and addictions issues) education series and/or to attend the mental health support group or concurrent disorder support group. These are all offered through the hospital.
There is also a family support group for parents of children and youth run by Parents for Children’s Mental Health.
How can families take care of themselves?
Families need to do self-care to stay strong to be able to support their loved one throughout their mental health journey which can be a long one.
I encourage keeping in touch with their social connections and not withdrawing, eating well and exercising and getting the proper amount of sleep.
Having someone to talk to about their situation is also very important. That is why I encourage people to call me or to attend the education and support groups.
What do they need to watch for?
Families need to watch for losing patience with the person they support and with others. They also need to watch for their taking over the ill person’s life and responsibilities.
Families need to support and encourage their loved one to continue with as much of their former responsibilities as possible and to set boundaries around the ill person’s demands on the family member’s time, energy and money.
How can families access your services?
Families can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 519-749-4300 extension 5888 or 7089.