Managing mental illness

By Tara Whitsed

Helen’s* life changed when she discovered her youngest son was not coping mentally.

Her three children had all chosen university courses in Melbourne, moving from the family home not too far out of Shepparton.

‘‘Then the unexpected and unthinkable happened — we discovered that our youngest boy was not coping,’’ Helen said.

‘‘Not just that, it turned out he had been taking drugs and had a breakdown. We were devastated. At first we thought we could manage this problem ourselves, sort things out then get back to our comfortable life.’’

After months of struggling to cope with his behaviour alone, their son was eventually diagnosed with an ongoing mental illness.

Helen said in those days there was little support in country towns.

‘‘We started to realise that this was far too big for us to manage on our own,’’ she said. ‘‘We found (Wellways facilitated) groups very helpful and it was especially useful to meet others in similar situations to us. Through going to these groups we learned how to ask and accept help.’’

Wellways will run a series of workshops in Shepparton next month called Building a Future, run by Family Education worker Marie Salakowski.

‘‘I met Helen at her first workshop. She was tired, emotionally exhausted and wasn’t coping,’’ Ms Salakowski said.

‘‘We are able to look at the family and their interactions, provide information and connect them into local support.

‘‘Just as you can’t build a wall without a firm foundation, you can’t build a future without solid support. That’s where our program Building a Future comes in.’’

Building a Future was designed to increase the capacity of families, carers and friends to care effectively for themselves, other family members and their relative living with mental illness, Ms Salakowski said.

The program provides a broad and sensitive perspective to the many issues facing families as they manage the impact of mental illness on their lives.

The sessions will run from July 11 for eight weeks at the Department of Rural Health, Graham St, Shepparton.

*Not her real name.