Wednesday was Bell Let’s Talk Day, an initiative intended to discuss mental health issues openly.
Mental health advocates say two out of three people with a mental health condition still fear stigma and suffer in silence, afraid of judgment and rejection. And even when people want help for their illness, and have parents and loved ones to support them, treatment programs don’t always value family participation.
Jim, a father from Chilliwack, knows this scenario well.
His son is a vulnerable adult with significant mental health challenges. Jim has experienced first-hand how important family support is in breaking down the stigma and supporting recovery.
“I’m training to become a social worker so I know what good care for a vulnerable adult should look like,” he says. “I feel that as parents we had to be there to support our son through his illness.”
Jim’s son started receiving care at the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction, a residential treatment facility for people with mental health and substance use concerns. At the time, he and his then-wife Susan were feeling frustrated and unsure where to turn for help.
Their son had aged out of a program for early psychosis intervention, but mental health and substance-use issues remained.
“Supporting a vulnerable loved one through a mental health condition, like my ex-wife Susan and I continue to do with our son, requires a large degree of collaboration based on trust,” Jim says. “That collaboration is between ourselves and our son, but also between us as a family and the health care team supporting him.”
Jim felt a huge sense of relief when he first met Rick Johal, a social worker at the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction who became involved in his son’s case.
“Rick gave us his email address and phone number. I promised him we wouldn’t abuse this privilege by calling him too often, but he told us to not hesitate to contact,” Jim recalls. “Rick told us that this was our right as parents. He showed respect and was extremely conscientious.
“Rick scheduled proactive weekly phone calls and got other members of my son’s care team involved to answer our questions. He brought our family together as part of the team and helped us support our son.”
For Rick, the benefits of involving family members are many.
“One of the best predictors of outcome for someone with mental health and substance-use issues is the level of support after they leave the centre,” he says. “Having family members who are actively involved and understanding of the treatment and how to provide that kind of support to their loved one after they leave is really important.
“On top of that, families have years and years of knowledge of their loved ones and that wealth of information about what’s going on with them. Families are part of the team helping people get back on track.”
Jim’s son is now living independently, but he still requires support from Jim and Susan, who are helping him to do things like stick to a good diet. They remain hopeful that he’ll develop new skills and gain greater independence as time goes on.
To anyone else who has a loved one with mental health issues, Jim’s advice is to listen to and support them while still respecting their child’s autonomy.
“Our son is an adult who values his independence, but he also knows we are there for him if he needs us,” says Jim. “Rick and the Burnaby Centre showed us what treatment for vulnerable adults can look like when you invite family members in.”