Health and Wellness

Mental Illness: understanding it and helping our loved ones.

In February, the Family Care Office organized a workshop at UTM devoted to providing participants with a better understanding of mental illness, and offering some strategies that family members can use to support loved ones who may be suffering.

Mental illness refers to a variety of disorders that manifest through differences in mood (e.g. depression, anxiety, bipolarity), thought (e.g. psychosis, schizophrenia, delusion), or personality (e.g. borderline disorder, antisocial disorder).

The speaker was Stephanie Kerr, the Family Supporter for the Mississauga area of the Family Association for Mental Health Everywhere or FAME. FAME is an association dedicated to supporting families and caregivers who have a loved one with a mental health concern by providing support, education, coping skills and self-care strategies. They offer tons of great programs for families including one-on-one supports and monthly family support groups.

Stephanie provided a four-point strategy for anyone who wants to support a loved one who may suffering from a mental health challenge:

  1. Knowledge is Power. The more information you have, the better. In order to be able to help a family member or a friend who is suffering from a mental illness, the first step is to understand the problems that she or he is dealing with. Do your research, talk to an expert, or grab some resources from the FCO.
  2. Communication.
    • Be close to your loved one, and allow yourself to listen to what she or he has to say about what they are experiencing. Try your best to understand her or his experience.
    • Put yourself in the shoes of your loved one. Empathize.
    • Agree on common ground from which to develop a meaningful communication.
    • Together, set out goals and support them in accomplishing these goals.
  3. Have Realistic Expectations. It is crucial to keep in mind that we all have limits. You alone cannot ‘cure’ your loved one and you can’t force them to access treatment if they are not ready. But, you can provide support and encouragement, and be an open and honest listener.
  4. Take Care of Yourself. The only way you’ll be able to help someone dealing with a mental illness is to keep yourself well. Keep track of your own emotions and stress levels and do what you can to maintain your own well-being. This could include booking appointment with  counseling services at UTM, or connecting with FAME to find supports in your community.

What to do in crises:

  1. Call the 24.7 Crisis Support in the Peel Region.
  2. Access campus resources across U of T.