There is also Family Peer Support. This primarily takes the form of a family member who has experienced having a loved one with a mental illness lending an empathetic ear, sharing knowledge and strategies that they have found successful, and helping to find community resources. Just having someone who has been there themselves listen to your issues with compassion, can be a significant stress relief. Someone who is nonjudgmental, who can share possible ways for you to handle issues that arise, or can help you navigate the mental health system can be a tremendous help.
Peer Support allows people with a mental illness to learn and be supported by someone who has lived through a similar experience and who can relate to the difficulties the ill person is experiencing. They can help your loved one back into the community by helping them to socialize and to carry out simple tasks that they may be having difficulties with. This would include things like taking public transport or learning about available resources in the community. They also provide companionship and help people to reintegrate into the community.
Getting help for myself was key to me being able to put things in perspective and handle the stress involved when caring for a person with mental illness. If I had gone along without getting help and becoming involved, then I would not be in the position that I am now, where I am able to help other people. Help for me was family support meetings and taking courses to learn about mental health and self-care. I learned I was not alone and there is no shame in leaning on others for help through difficult times. Most people take great pleasure from being able to help.
Family support can also mean support for families of people with a mental illness. This support is often facilitated by other family members who are going through or have gone through the experience of having a family member with a mental illness. These family peer facilitators share knowledge and strategies that work for them and are understanding listeners who have experienced supporting a loved one with mental illness. Support for families can also be provided by service providers or mental health professionals. There was very little support for families in the past, but in recent years it has been improving.
Family support for people with a mental illness can be a huge aid to recovery. When I use the term family here, I am including any primary caregiver, immediate or extended family members, close friend or anyone who has the interests of the ill person at heart, and who is providing support. Unfortunately, I found out first hand that the primary caregiver is often the one who the ill person uses as an outlet for their frustration and anger. My key was to not take it personally because I understood that my daughter did not mean the things she was saying, it was the illness talking, she was scared, frustrated and just needed someone to hear her. As she is going through recovery it is clear that she is appreciative that I stand by her, and she is remorseful following any incidents, that are thankfully few and far between now. Without family support, many people with mental illness end up living on the streets, or at the very least have a much harder time accessing services to get regular treatment.
There was a time when my ego and the concern that people would think less of me, stopped me from seeing the truth. I did not see that I needed help, but the truth was, I did. I was becoming irritable, angry and was not nice to be around. I changed this by attending support meetings, something that I had never previously considered. I had erroneously thought it was a sign of weakness to admit to needing help. My life immediately improved. I became a little humbled when I found that others, who had similar experiences, could and would share what they had learned to help me. Mental illness is a great leveler and we can all learn from people who share similar issues. Instead of being a sign of weakness it was smart thinking.
I use the word advocate here in the “pleading for” or “support” sense. People with a mental illness often cannot present their own case, or express their requirements clearly. It became obvious to me that I had to advocate for my daughter in many ways. I needed to represent her to ensure she received the care and treatment she needed and to which she was entitled. I had to guide her through handling application forms for services that required them and I attended meetings with her so I could remember information and instructions because she did not have the capacity to do these things on her own. When mental illness strikes, family members or even friends should advocate for the loved one to help them get the care that they need. Mental health care is primarily a voluntary service so advocacy can be essential for supporting a person to get help.