The need of support for family members affected by mental illness was highlighted at a Friends Family Peer Support Service talk at the Hunt Museum this week.
The talk, which ran as part of Limerick Mental Health week, was aimed at raising awareness of mental health support services through a series of workshops offered throughout the Mid-West.
Mary Doyle, who once availed of the services that the FRIENDS Project offers, is now a trained Family Peer Supporter with the project.
Speaking about the initiative and its roots, Mrs Doyle said, “One of the reasons that FRIENDS was set up was because people involved in mental health could see that while there was something there for the person living the experience, there was nothing there for families.”
The recovery initiative stresses the need to avoid going into “fix- it mode” when a loved one is in crisis, as this can often lead to an “area of anxiety”, further distressing somebody already in a vulnerable place.
The incentive behind the project was to foster participant empowerment and to guide people to learn from the experiences of others.
The private and confidential service offers recovery-focused support from a trained Family Peer Supporter. The aim of the project is to train family members to support other family members.
Addressing the need to allow a family member a sense of independence, Mrs Doyle said, “The phrase I heard over and over with the FRIENDS Project was ‘stand back’, and it can be quite difficult.”
“For me, it is about the difference between caring about someone, and caring for them,” she said.
This project promotes family recovery, through engaging, networking and developing the necessary skills to address mental illness in a loved one.
The project recognises that recovery “is a learning curve”, and encourages people to “listen with empathy” when dealing with a loved one in crisis.
John Purcell, also a trained Family Peer Supporter with the FRIENDS Project, said that he, at one time, believed himself capable of finding solutions to all problems in regards to the care of his son, who suffered from mental health difficulties.
Praising the project and its work in a time of stigma surrounding mental health, John said, “With mental health, the stigma was there. At that time, I had no hope. I felt isolated. But now, life to me is completely different.
“I have found that with the help I got, I hope I would be able to help somebody else,” he continued.
The FRIENDS Project is in partnership with Shine, the Mid-West HSE, Family Peer Supporters and Aras Follain. For details on upcoming workshops, visit www.shine.ie