TRIAD’s first national survey of people living with mental illness and their family members showed that family education and support services, if they are available, can be life-changing. Frequently, individuals with mental illness depend upon their families for medical care, money, housing and emotional support as families are often forced to fill the service gap within the mental health system. In the TRIAD survey, one in four individuals with mental illness lived with their parents and one in five receive regular financial support from their families. Many family members represented in the TRIAD survey expressed concerns for their loved one with a mental illness:
The main problem facing our daughter with bipolar illness is the paperwork that has to be completed in order to receive her meds….somehow this past week she was denied one of the meds she had to order and her mother had to write a large check to pay for it…She will be taking three meds for her illness probably for life. If I weren’t alive—how would this be paid for? Her income from SSDI and her part time job is not sufficient to cover these costly meds.
Unfortunately, family education and support services, which have been shown to help families cope with this burden, are not widely available—even among members of a national advocacy group such as NAMI. Barely more than half of the family members reflected in these results received family education or support in the last year. Among those family members who received education and support services, they overwhelmingly found these interventions to be very helpful, especially family-led courses and support groups.
Participants in NAMI’s Family-to-Family education program over the past year especially sang the praises of this family-led intervention, as one respondent simply wrote:
I took the Family-to-Family education course and it changed my life—I gained peace and lost my anger and guilt. I was so impressed, I wanted to give back by becoming a teacher. I am going to train in May to become a trainer.
NAMI is working vigorously to expand its Family-to-Family program, but to extend the benefits of family education and support to more families, the public mental health system must contribute to the greater expansion of these services by supporting the minimal costs required and promoting these programs as core services.
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