Families of those recovering from serious mental health issues are probably one of the last groups within the mental health community to embrace the vision of recovery. Their experience of the mental health system is often one of despair, hopelessness, helplessness, alienation, isolation and discrimination.
Families are often told to grieve the loss of their loved one as they knew them, to lower all expectations and to make sure their family member takes their medications. This leads to a family environment that does not promote recovery. How can a family embrace recovery when they feel their lives are full of loss, sadness, anger and power struggles?
Traditionally, family support and education programs mostly focused on teaching families about diagnosis, treatments, mental health resources, crisis intervention, communication skills and self-care. There was little, if any, mention of recovery and no??critical examination of the mental health system from a trauma-informed and anti-oppression perspective. These programs created like-minded thinking between families and mental health professionals, which further reinforced the idea that recovery is not possible.
In 2001, the Family Outreach and Response Program was introduced to Recovery. While the program had always worked together with consumer/survivor advocacy organizations and fought against coercive legislation ??? we really didn???t have a framework for working directly with families that felt empowering for both families and their relatives. The philosophy, values, principles and concepts of recovery filled this void and the first Mental Health Recovery Series was written. Over the years, the family recovery series has been adapted and expanded but remains a core component of the support families receive from FOR.
FOR has continued to grow and expand the services available to families and we are always looking for new ways to address gaps and advocate for change in the mental health system. In 2013, FOR began to offer an in home youth engagement program that was and continues to fill a critical gap in mental health services. Most recently FOR began the Family Navigation program in partnership with St. Joseph???s Health Centre., ensuring that families receive the support and education needed to navigate the ever complex mental health system. We continue to offer innovative, recovery-oriented group programming such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to youth and families, Wellness Recovery Action Plan, ??and Photovoice for youth. We have also trained several service providers locally, provincially, nationally and internationally.
Eventually, our vision is to have a Family Mental Health Recovery Centre, a community that provides all types of groups, educational and advocacy events that promote recovery, peer support and is inclusive of the diverse families within the Toronto area.