For families coping with a relative's severe mental illness, support groups can offer education and emotional help, as well as communication skills. In addition to FACES and NAMI Virginia, family support groups are available through local government and community organizations.
Henrico County Mental Health and Developmental Services (727-8515 or co.henrico.va.us/mhds ) offers a program called Family Psychoeducation Group for individuals in their late teens and early 20s with a serious mental illness to attend, along with a member of their family. Patients are referred by a case worker, and the program lasts for a year to 18 months, with meetings twice a month.
Help for Families
Children's Mental Health Resource Center: 447-2125 or mentalhealth4kids.org
Family Advocacy Creating Education and Services (FACES): 378-0035 or facesva.org
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Virginia: 285-8264 or namivirginia.org
"It seems to be pretty effective for the newly diagnosed young people and their families," says Irene Temple, a clinical supervisor. "There seems to be a more nonjudgmental stance toward their loved ones, their family members, when they realize they're not the only ones going through the problems that they're talking about. It's very positive." Betty Miller, a recently retired employee of the department, continues to lead a family support group at Lakeside House (5623 Lakeside Ave.) every Wednesday except the second Wednesday of the month, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The group is tailored to parents of adult children in their 20s. Miller says that the group gives participants not only support and resources, but also education about mental illness and communication skills so the family can learn to effectively communicate with a loved one who has a brain disorder. She says that the parents who attend her group have a variety of questions and needs. "These parents have enormous decisions to make: ‘Should they live with me or not?' ‘Can I live with them or not?' ‘Should I give them money or not when they're not going to the doctor or they're not taking medications?' These are enormous problems for the parents and family members," says Miller. A member of this support group, who asked that her identity be kept private, has a 24-year-old daughter with bipolar disorder and depression. For June (a pseudonym), attending the support group has given her the information and support that she couldn't get from friends and other family members. Health care struggles and the changing status of Medicare and Medicaid leave June's daughter bouncing from one doctor and psychiatrist to another. Navigating the system has been taxing and frustrating, in addition to the everyday challenges of contending with a daughter suffering from bipolar disorder. Though her daughter is currently not living with her, June says that she is constantly trying to help by finding new information, offering support and listening. "The friends I've made all along the way, they just got tired of hearing about it," June says. "They'd say, ‘Oh, what has she done now?' They get burned out and it's like, ‘You think you're burned out? Live my life.' " Information about other family support groups can be found through the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services ( dbhds.virginia.gov/OMH-SupportGroups.htm ).