Wednesday, 8 August 2012
Building a family lifeline for thousands of Australians
A new resource helping families deal with youth mental illness will be launched by Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia today.
In an Australian first, Orygen Youth Health’s Family Peer Support Workers Training Guide will facilitate the training of family peer support workers who help families when a young family member has recently been diagnosed with a mental illness. This enables the family to receive the understanding and support they need, and assist them in helping their loved one get their life back on track.
Professor Patrick McGorry AO, Director at Orygen Youth Health, said the new resource will be an invaluable tool to help families touched by mental illness.
“Across Australia, there are almost 6000 new cases of psychosis in young people diagnosed each year, of which there are 1,400 in Victoria.
“Those involved in the evolution of our Family Peer Support Program are aware of the specialist expertise required for success, so encapsulating our experience into a Training Guide has been vital not only for future development at Orygen Youth Health, but for other early intervention services nationally. We have already been approached by services expressing an interest in setting up similar programs,” Prof McGorry said.
Dr Margaret Leggatt, SANE Australia founder and former Director of the Mental Illness Fellowship was a key writer of the Training Guide. She said the impact of a young person developing a mental illness on family members can be extremely distressing.
“Many families feel unprepared and inept, when dealing with a loved one’s mental illness. This first exposure to the symptoms of mental illness is difficult for families to grasp,” Dr Leggatt said.
“When support is given by families who have been through similar situations it can reassure them and provide hope that situations can improve. Furthermore, it can assist them to deal with the stigma of mental health issues and engage with services,” she said.
A study of Orygen Youth Health’s Family Peer Support Program showed that 96% of families contacted by the family peers, welcomed the support. Parents appreciated that they had someone to talk to who understood their situation and they were glad to know the support was there.
Julie, a parent and advocate of the Family Peer Support Workers Program said that when she learnt of her son’s illness, having the support of a peer was vital to her family’s journey.
“The hardest thing I have ever done is watch my son descend into the ‘other world’ of a mental illness, where he no longer recognised me. While the amazing doctors, nurses and other clinicians set to helping him, the Family Peer Support Workers set to helping me.
“Being able to speak with people who had been through this before made an amazing difference. They understood my anxiety and they listened. They gave me hope, passed on their knowledge of the system and didn’t judge. This gave me strength at a time when I felt like I had none. It’s over two years since my son first became ill, I have no doubt I would have found this journey impossible without their support,” Julie said.
The concept of supporting families within an early intervention setting is unique to Orygen Youth Health.
Professor McGorry said, “The success of our Family Peer Support program is based on one simple idea – that the people who have personally experienced a situation are those best able to provide support to others in the same situation.
“In the end, we simply want to ensure that we provide every opportunity to support our families and to assist their young person to get back on track and achieve their goals,” Prof McGorry concluded.
The Training Family Peer Support Workers in an Early Intervention Mental Health Service – Facilitator’s Training Guide is available at www.oyh.org.au
Orygen Youth Health is a clinical mental health service for young people aged 15 – 24 and their families, serving more than one million people across Victoria. It is part of Melbourne Health.
Orygen’s Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre provides treatment for young people experiencing a first episode of psychosis.
Media contact: Irene Salkunas, Media and Public Affairs, Melbourne Health, 9342 8757/ 0419 339 084.