Mental Illness Awareness Week runs from Oct. 2-8, bringing attention to conditions that have long been left in the dark due to the stigma attached to them.
Although much attention has been paid to individuals who suffer from mental illness, something that can get lost in the fold is the effect these conditions have on family members.
The Mirror spoke about this issue with Yvette Brook, executive director of the Patient/Client and Family Council, a non-profit organization affiliated with Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care.
How does the council support the families of those dealing with mental illness?
“The council helps to bring the voice of family members who are going through the mental-health system forward.
“We’re also a peer-support group, so family members can reach out and we can point them in the right direction and offer them support.
“Everybody who works here has gone through the system themselves or has had a close family member go through it, so we all know what it’s like.”
What’s your own experience with the mental-health system?
“I’ve had two close family members through the system, so I’ve seen it up close. Plus, I went through it myself when I was a teenager.”
How do you deal with mental illness as a family member?
“You know something’s off, but no family member wants to stand up and say they might have a mental-health issue. You tend to tiptoe around it.
“Sometimes you need to advocate for things your family member doesn’t want, which is hard. It can put a wedge between you. You’re not always doing the right thing for the relationship, but you have to do it.”
What are some of the issues related to dealing with a mentally ill loved one?
“Boundaries are the No. 1 issue for families. You don’t know what helps and what hinders their progress. And there’s always a level of guilt involved, as you ask yourself what you could have done to help more.
“You have to realize you have zero control over the situation. For example, in my case, my family member was actively suicidal. My biggest fear was walking in and finding he had killed himself. You’re trying to gather some control, but the hardest piece is saying you’ve got no control. If they’re going to do it, they’re going to do it. At the end of the day, the final decision is theirs.”
What more needs to be done to support people who are dealing with a family member with mental illness?
“Peer services as a whole are underestimated. It really helps to talk about your experiences with someone who has been through it.
“When people come to the council, they’re at rock bottom, the worst part of their life. I think you need to get to these people before their loved one comes here and provide support in the community. We’re at the wrong end of the continuum, dealing with people when they’re at their worst.”