Friday, December 18, 2009

Family-to-Family Week 10

Note: One of our current Family-to-Family participants is writing a weekly series about her experience in NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania's 12-week education program. This is her 10th post.

When a loved one's behavior changes and a diagnosis of mental illness is made, the family's immediate concern is for the present situation--getting their loved one appropriate treatment. But, what happens after that? Until the late 80s, the treatment model for mental illness did not extend beyond stabilization and maintenance. People were given medication and therapy to control their symptoms or behaviors, but there was no discussion of recovery. People with mental illness and their families were given no vision of hope for moving beyond the status quo.

However, with the input of family members and mental health consumers, and the creation of innovative rehabilitation programs, recovery has become the focus of long-term treatment. Our Family-to-Family class discussed the concept of recovery, how it means something different for each individual, and how it begins with an individuals decision to "lead a hopeful life and to make a contribution in spite of the limitations imposed by illness" (Patricia Deegan, Consumer and Clinical Psychologist).

Our guest speaker for the second half of the class was a recovering mental health consumer, who had been through years of misdiagnosis, treatments, tests and hospitalizations. She is now starting her own business, based on helping others with mental illness and is taking an active role in advocating for others as well.

One point in this week's class that struck me was that until an individual has the self awareness to make this decision, we can provide them with understanding, patience and support, but we cannot push them into recovery. Self awareness is often something that is taken away or distorted by mental illness, so it is often a long and difficult road, for both the individual with mental illness and their family, just to get to the point where recovery begins.

Without NAMI and the Family-to-Family class, it was clear that many people in need would not even know where to start. There are a number of programs now that supply the atmosphere in which this self awareness is achieved: Clubhouses provide a place for people to simply get out and meet others, talk to peers who have been where they are, and, if they are ready, provide direction for next steps. Job skills training, peer-to-peer supports, housing assistance and job placement assistance are all available to those who are ready to move forward.

For more information, visit the Family-to-Family section of the NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania website.