Family Support For Mental Illness


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How Do I Know When To Help

How families can support a child’s mental health | Paul Sunseri | TEDxFondduLac

Some signs that a friend or family member may have a mental illness and could need your help are:

  • They suddenly no longer have interest in hobbies and other interests they used to love
  • They seem to feel angry or sad for little or no reason
  • They dont seem to enjoy anything anymore
  • They have told you about or seem to be hearing strange voices or having unsettling thoughts
  • They seem emotionally numb, like they dont feel anything anymore
  • They used to be healthy, but now theyre always saying they feel a bit sick
  • They eat a lot more or less than they used to
  • Their sleep patterns have changed
  • They seem to be anxious or terrified about situations or objects in life that seem normal to you and to others
  • Theyve been missing more and more time from work or school
  • Theyve been drinking heavily and/or using drugs to cope
  • They are talking about taking their life or feeling hopeless
  • They are avoiding their close friends and family members

Toms recovery has been an exercise in patience, love and understanding. We take one step forward and stumble two steps back baby stepssmall increments of success, tiny improvements of things we would ordinarily take for grantedare things we celebrate. When Tom smiles, cracks a joke or declares that he wants to go for a run, they are positive, encouraging signs: baby steps forward.Family member from Family Toolkit

How To Talk About Mental Health

Do you need help starting a conversation about mental health? Try leading with these questions and make sure to actively listen to your friend or family member’s response.

  • I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk about what you are experiencing? If not, who are you comfortable talking to?
  • What can I do to help you to talk about issues with your parents or someone else who is responsible and cares about you?
  • What else can I help you with?
  • I am someone who cares and wants to listen. What do you want me to know about how you are feeling?
  • Who or what has helped you deal with similar issues in the past?
  • Sometimes talking to someone who has dealt with a similar experience helps. Do you know of others who have experienced these types of problems who you can talk with?
  • It seems like you are going through a difficult time. How can I help you to find help?
  • How can I help you find more information about mental health problems?
  • I’m concerned about your safety. Have you thought about harming yourself or others?

When talking about mental health problems:

Make A Commitment To Yourself

It is easy to allow yourself to become engulfed in your unwell family members life and forget about your own needs. Being able to maintain an identity apart from your role as a family member is ultimately the best medicine for you both. Treating yourself well every day and putting your own well-being first will ensure that your mental and physical health is protected and that you are better equipped to deal with the demand of the family member role.

Taking a break requires a commitment to yourself and may also require planning ahead. You may for example, need to call on trusted friends and family to take a turn as family member for a short while. You may need to organize holidays and get someone to take your place when you are away. You may want to find out what services exist in your community for short-term caregiving. As hard as it may seem, there are many ways to take a break during the day. The first step is becoming aware of what it is that you find fulfilling or, at the very least, a good distraction. For some, going to work is a great way to get their minds off of things at home. For others, being involved in a church organization or playing with their grandchildren may be the answer.

Some suggestions for ways to look after yourself include:

Attend weekly family support groups. Share your experience in a safe environment with others who truly understand what you are going through. Let yourself see that you are not alone in your struggles.

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How Can Other People Be Supportive

This page is for friends and family who would like to support someone who is experiencing a mental health problem.

Under 18? We have information for you on how to support a friend or partner who’s struggling

It can be very difficult to see someone who you care about becoming unwell, but you don’t need to be an expert on mental health to offer support. Often small, everyday actions can make the biggest difference.

Support For Families And Caregivers

How to Protect Your Family

CMHA York and South Simcoe Family and Caregiver Mental Health Support offers programs for families and caregivers who are supporting someone with a mental illness.

The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and its chapters across Ontario provide a range of peer-based, self-help support groups. Some groups are for the person with the mental illness alone, others include the person with the mental illness and his or her family members.

Parents for Childrens Mental Health is dedicated to improving the lives of families and the services for child and youth mental health. PCMH links families to important networks within their communities to ensure they get the care they need and the support of families who can relate and support them.

The Schizophrenia Society and its many local chapters offer self-help support groups for family members of individuals with schizophrenia.

The NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program is a free, 8-week course for family caregivers of individuals with severe mental illnesses.

The Government of Canada offers various forms of assistance for caregivers. Service Canada has established a list to help you prepare for this role.

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Healthy Choices And Behaviors

Participation in social groups has a normative influence on behaviors, often influencing whether people eat a healthy diet, exercise, smoke, drink, or use illegal substances.

Clearly, social groups can sometimes have a negative influence in this regard when peer pressure and influence leads to poor or even dangerous health choices. However, group pressure and support can also lead people to engage in healthy behaviors as well.

If you have ever tried to give up a bad habit, such as smoking, you probably realize just how important social support can be. If your social connections do not support you, it can make success much more difficult. If your friends and family offer support and encouragement, you may find achieving your goal much more possible.

Support For Caregivers And Families

When a child faces mental health issues, it can be very challenging for a family to cope. But there are organizations that offer help. Many have been started by parents and caregivers who have faced this same experience themselves and recognize the need for information, education and emotional support.

Family support services also exist within the mental health care system, through organizations such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health or local hospitals and childrens centres.

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Family Support And Organizations

Support can make a significant difference to both people struggling with mental health challenges and their families. The organizations listed below can help!

AMI-Quebec has many programs to help families cope with mental illness in a loved one. Consider attending one of our support groups , a workshop, or booking an appointment with one of our counsellors .


Working With Health Professionals

Supporting family members of those dealing with mental health issues

Some parents are intimidated by mental health professionals. Keep in mind that theyre working for you. Respect their position and expertise, but dont assume that they will always know best. Listen to clinicians with an open mind, even if what they say is something you wouldnt want to hear, or it seems to be critical of you. Pay attention to your inner voice and assert yourself when you feel its necessary. The final decisions are always yours.

Remember, you are doing the best you can, and any success is worth celebrating.

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Where Can I Find A Support Group To Attend Locally

Your local Mental Health America affiliate is an excellent resource to assist you in finding support groups in your area.

The National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Group Clearinghouse also maintains a Directory of Consumer-Driven Services which includes peer-run organizations throughout the United States that offer a variety of supportive services and activities, including peer-run support groups.

Supporting A Friend Or Family Member With Mental Health Problems

You can help your friend or family member by recognizing the signs of mental health problems and connecting them to professional help.

Talking to friends and family about mental health problems can be an opportunity to provide information, support, and guidance. Learning about mental health issues can lead to:

  • Improved recognition of early signs of mental health problems
  • Earlier treatment
  • Greater understanding and compassion

If a friend or family member is showing signs of a mental health problem or reaching out to you for help, offer support by:

  • Finding out if the person is getting the care that he or she needs and wantsif not, connect him or her to help
  • Expressing your concern and support
  • Reminding your friend or family member that help is available and that mental health problems can be treated
  • Asking questions, listening to ideas, and being responsive when the topic of mental health problems come up
  • Reassuring your friend or family member that you care about him or her
  • Offering to help your friend or family member with everyday tasks
  • Including your friend or family member in your planscontinue to invite him or her without being overbearing, even if your friend or family member resists your invitations
  • Educating other people so they understand the facts about mental health problems and do not discriminate
  • Treating people with mental health problems with respect, compassion, and empathy

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Families Coping With Mental Illness

Due to COVID-19 this program is currently offered virtually. For more information please contact Jenn Millan directly at 250.260.3233 or email

FAMILIES COPING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS is a free public education series presented by our family support specialist, health care professionals, community, and family members. Coffee, tea and snacks provided. Held on the second Wednesday of the month from 6 pm to 8 pm at the Vernon Public Library.

not offered in July or August

The series curriculum is adapted from BC Schizophrenias Family Series: Strengthening Families Together.

Program Details

This series offers:

  • Support: Families have an opportunity to discuss the daily challenges they face and learn how to connect with others through membership in their local provincial society and chapter/branch.
  • Awareness: Families get reliable and consistent information about mental illness, treatment options, causes, research, and available mental health services, in the hopes of diminishing the stigma attached to diagnosis.
  • Tools: Families are equipped with problem solving, coping, and advocacy and communication skills.

Self Care: Who Is Taking Care Of You

How families can support each other

Supporting a family member living with mental illness or experiencing mental health challenges can be both rewarding and stressful. For many, their biggest challenge is maintaining balance in our lives so that mental illness does not consume every minute of every day.

Stress is a natural part of life, but if not managed well, it can lead to your own health problems. When caring for someone living with a mental illness, family members have a tendency to put themselves as second priority. The most important thing to remember as a family member is to take care of YOU. The actions we take to maintain our own health and wellbeing are just as important.

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Where To Find Help

Find support services close to home by searching the Ontario Health Care Options directory.

Association of Parent Support Groups in OntarioA self-help organization of parents of disruptive, or acting-out, youth ages 10 to 30.

Centre for Addiction and Mental HealthFree education and support groups for families of people facing a range of mental health issues.

Family Association for Mental Health Everywhere Individual counselling support to parents and guardians with a child up to age 16, monthly family support groups across the Greater Toronto Area, and family education and support related to first-episode psychosis.

Family Outreach and Response Program FOR offers a range of recovery-oriented support services for families across Toronto, including an interactive, fully facilitated, online recovery-education course, Families Healing Together .

Maudsley ParentsA volunteer organization of parents who have helped their children recover from eating disorders using an evidence-based, family-based treatment approach to anorexia, which was developed at the Maudsley Hospital in London, UK.

Mood Disorders Association of Ontario Province-wide, free support programs for individuals, and their families, living with depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder.

NAMI Ontario

Feeling Guilt What To Do

No matter how we decide to cope with the situation, it is difficult to remove the emotional connection we have when concerned about our family member, as a result we often are left feeling guilt. We consider every shoulda, woulda, coulda you can imagine.

At times, we may feel guilty for putting ourselves first, for building resentment towards our loved ones , for wishing life was how it use to be before the mental illness developed. It is ok to feel guilt, it becomes an issue when we allow it to control our life. Additionally, when an individual is experiencing mental illness, they lose their old identity and are forced to figure out who they are while managing their symptoms. This is the same for the family unit. What use to be is no longer, and this reality can be challenging, stressful, and devastating. Remember, you too are learning how to navigate this life and there is no expectation for you to know exactly what to do.

This sense of guilt or feeling guilty is our response to trying to balance the emotions we have and personal limits we try to set. This middle place leaves us conflicted in our decision making and problem solving about what is the best support we can provide to our family member living with a mental illness. What is important to remember is that you can both express your support and concern for them while firmly maintaining your personal limits.

Just because you feel guilty doesnt mean you are guilty.

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Parents: Trying Your Best Despite It All

The unconditional love is always there, but it can be challenged beyond belief. Your heart is broken again and again because it hurts to see someone you love, suffer so much.

Destructive acts may cause you to actually feel hate toward your own child. And in between the love and hate comes fear, confusion, resentment, wonder happiness and guilt. We fear for our childrens future will they ever be on their own? Will we spend the rest of our lives trying to help our children live normal lives? As much as we love them, we look forward to the empty nest. We must walk a fine line between letting our children learn from their mistakes and protecting them when a mental illness limits their capabilities.

Coping With Your Feelings

NAMI Family Support Group – 2 minutes

When we are faced with challenges as family members we dont always know how to respond, sometimes we choose not to respond, we frequently ask ourselves if we are making the right decision. Our emotions play a significant role in this process, we often respond out of hurt, fear or anger. Therefore we find ourselves on a journey of coping and learning how to cope with these challenges, below are some of the directions we may take:

  • Denial: doing nothing about the problem in hopes that it will go away.
  • Wishful thinking: doing nothing because you are sure that a miracle will occur, and the person experiencing a mental illness will change.
  • Emotionality: reacting emotionally rather than remaining calm and thinking through logical solutions to your problem.
  • doing nothing because you cannot bear to hurt the person, which you may think is more important than your own feelings.
  • Isolation: trying to handle the problem by yourself instead of asking for help.

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Supporting A Friend Or Family Member

It can be scary when someone you love is sick. It can be especially scary if theyre diagnosed with a mental illness. Its hard to see someone you love in pain and its confusing when someone you know well is not acting like themselves. You know how you would take care of them if they had a cold or flu, but what do you do for a mental illness? Like any other health problem, someone with a mental illness needs extra love and support. You may not be able to see the illness, but it doesnt mean that youre powerless to help.

On this page:

Resources For Families Coping With Mental And Substance Use Disorders

  • While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for helping a family member who is drinking too much, using drugs, or dealing with a mental illness, research shows that family support can play a major role in helping a loved one with mental and substance use disorders.

    When a family member is experiencing a mental or substance use disorder, it can affect more than just the person in need of recovery. Evidence has shown that some people have a genetic predisposition for developing mental and substance use disorders, and may be at greater risk based on environmental factors such as having grown up in a home affected by a family members mental health or history of substance use. Families should be open to the options of support groups or family therapy and counseling, which can improve treatment effectiveness by supporting the whole family.

    It is also important to remember that the unique challenges that come from helping a loved one with a mental or substance use disorder can be taxing, so caregivers should take steps to prioritize their own health as well.

    Family members may be more likely to notice when their loved ones are experiencing changes in mood or behavior. Being able to offer support, family members can connect those in need with treatment, resources, and services to begin and stay on their recovery journey.

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