Hope from despair with mental health course

Family-to-Family course is free and offers information to families dealing with a loved one who has mental illness

Kim Thomas knows a thing or two about how to support a child with mental illness.

Now she wants to pass her knowledge to other families struggling to cope.

“Our motto is you don’t know what you haven’t been taught,” says Thomas, a Coquitlam mother of two high school students, one diagnosed with mental illness.

For years, Thomas and her husband were just coping with their son’s outbursts, some of them physical, and when he was diagnosed at the age of seven with oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety and bi-polar tendencies it was just the beginning of their journey.

There were no easy answers, her son’s behaviour was becoming dangerous, punching holes in the walls and other acting-out behaviours — eventually Thomas had to find a new approach.

That’s when she found the Pathways Serious Mental Illness Society, and the 12-week Family-to-Family course — given by instructors who had had been through similar struggles — gave her a new perspective.

She didn’t know what to expect, but the program, which is scheduled to start Tuesday, Sept. 17, in Port Coquitlam, gave her a feeling of support, plus tools and skills to better help her son.

“After a few classes, Tuesdays were like Christmas — I couldn’t wait to get there.”

What she learned helped Thomas provide the boundaries and structure her son so desperately needed. She also learned how important it is to take time for yourself.

Thomas took training and now teaches the course; now, she is looking forward to helping other Tri-City parents.

She said most come in to the program feeling exhausted and drained. Learning to deal with the stigma is one of the first hurdles, she said, as people often come to the course feeling judged by others. 

“You can almost see they are like a flower blossoming. They’re getting it, and they’re in a room where they’re with people who are like them and where there is no judgement,” Thomas said.

“They’re with peers that understand.”

Topics include information about mental illness, such as schizophrenia and mood disorders, basics about the brain, how to problem-solve and improve communication, and advice on advocating for your loved one.

Thomas is happy to say her son is doing much better and is on track to graduate from high school while she and her husband have the skills now to support him.

She wants other Tri-City residents to learn what she did, and, she points out, the course is free and ends with a celebration, not exactly at Christmas, but close enough to it to provide participants with a feeling of hope.

THE DETAILS

Helping families support their loved one with mental illness is the goal of the Family-to-Family course that will be running in Port Coquitlam for 12 weeks, on Tuesdays, starting Sept. 17. For more information, contact the Pathways Serious Mental Illness Society family support centre at 604-925-0856 or send an email to valeska@pathwaysssmi.org.

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