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Support program helping families deal with mental illness

Published on

Tara Jeffrey

Natalie Andrews has a much better understanding of her daughter’s mental illness, thanks to a 12-week educational program through the Lambton Mental Wellness Centre.

“I had no idea what to do or where to go; as a parent, you feel lost,” said Andrews, whose 34-year-old daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder last year. “The personality changes, the medications – that’s been the biggest thing.”

Andrews was directed to the Durand Street centre’s family support groups, where director Cheryl Iacobelli told her about the Family-to-Family Education program. “When I heard about this course, I said yes right away,” she said.

The free course is designed specifically for family members of people living with mental illness, and explores depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and others. Families learn about medications, side effects, brain neurology, research, empathy, communication skills, self-care, rehabilitation services and advocacy.

“Just hearing peoples’ stories and knowing you’re not alone is huge; I always looked forward to each session, because these people just get it, and we’re all there for each other,” she said. “By no means are we experts, but it helped us to separate the person from the illness.

“I know I’m on the right path of being her advocate and being her support.”

The Family-to-Family Education Program is offered twice a year through the Lambton Mental Wellness Centre. The program was designed by the U.S.-based National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and was brought to Sarnia by local retiree Bill Hopkins, a longtime advocate for mental health awareness. Sarnia is one of the only Canadian cities to offer the course.

Taught by trained, volunteer family members, the class accepts about 25 participants each session. Staff rely heavily on word-of-mouth in hopes to reach more families in Sarnia-Lambton. The next session begins in October.

“It’s not on your radar until you’re impacted by it,” said Iacobelli. “That’s why people don’t know it’s out there.”

For more information, or to sign up for the fall session, call 519-344-5602.


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