TORONTO, April 24, 2017 - Samantha Esdon had to grow up fast.
“When I was a child, my mom was dealing with bipolar depression. I was her shoulder to lean on – sometimes in the middle of the night when she needed someone to talk her down.”
Living with a family member experiencing mental health challenges “seemed normal” at that time, Samantha says. “Looking back, though, I can remember the feelings of confusion and stress. I love my mom to bits; I do think my experience made me more cautious of how I interacted with other people.”
Today, Samantha uses her personal experience and understanding – and knowledge from her current university studies in psychology -- to continue to step up with compassion and help for others. She’s one of more than a dozen new volunteers at CAMH’s new Family Resource Centre.
New volunteers at CAMH’s new Family Resource Centre (from left): Kate Seifried, Lynn Grant, and Samantha Esdon.
A welcoming space, a stronger voice
Launched in March, the centre is a dedicated, welcoming space for family members to get information and make connections. Described as a “lifeline and refuge” for family members of patients, it’s located at CAMH’s Queen Street site in the Bell Gateway Building at 100 Stokes Street.
Along with the resource centre, CAMH’s new Office of Family Engagement (OFE) gives family members a stronger voice through a new advisory committee, and “we are working to improve support for how families navigate the mental health system,” says Miriam McCann, a CAMH Advanced Practice Clinical Leader who heads up the new service.
As one of the trained volunteers, Samantha says her main role is to assist family members of CAMH patients navigate the resources available to them. “As a person who has walked in the shoes of supporting a loved one through mental health challenges, my goal is to be a welcoming presence, a good listener, and to offer resources.”
A safe space, a catalyst for change
One of Samantha’s co-volunteers, Kate Seifried, has seen these issues from both sides. She’s helped friends and family members who are dealing with depression and anxiety. It sometimes made it easier when they knew she had been through similar experiences herself.
Kate says sometimes the catalyst for positive change can be a third party who is not directly involved. “When I was going through an eating disorder during high school, the turning point came when one of my teachers approached me and told me ‘I’m a little worried about you.’”
“My family had tried to help but I was not ready to deal with it,” she recalls. “When my teacher spoke with me, I was finally ready to say: ‘You’re right, I need help.’ I took that first step to get treatment in Kitchener, and my mom was a huge help to identify some options and connect me with health professionals.”
At CAMH, “our goal is to ensure that safe place for individuals and families,” says Kate, who is studying social work in university. “The OFE is going to be a game-changer.”
Finding answers, a personal touch
Volunteer Lynne Grant has had a career in health and education, and knows the importance of accurate information. “There is so much out there. When you have a family member looking for support around mental health, CAMH is a go-to resource for accurate and up to date information.” Where appropriate, trained volunteers can also put family members in touch with the centre’s coordinator or with CAMH services such as Access CAMH and Client Relations, she notes.
Lynne was a professional in the field of dental hygiene, as well as an educator and clinical instructor at both the University of Toronto and George Brown College. She knows the importance of balancing facts and skills with “a personal touch and rapport for the client.”
Like Samantha and Kate, Lynne also brings personal experience to her volunteer role.
“Having dealt many years ago with mental health and addiction issues in both my immediate and extended family, finding information and direction from the medical community was difficult. A close friend put me in touch with the right health professional, who eventually put my family on the road to getting the needed help. The friend who helped me had gone through the suicide of her child so knew the struggle to find answers and navigate the health system.”
As a result of that connection, Lynne learned more about the likely diagnosis of her family member. “When the time came for a ‘definitive diagnosis’, we turned to CAMH. Participating in a concurrent disorders study helped my family to deal with what was happening. The study group was the closest thing we had at that time for family support.”
As a CAMH OFE volunteer today, “I feel the CAMH community is much closer to providing a necessary component for the understanding of mental health and addiction issues for family members,” Lynne says. “In turn, this will help in the care and recovery of their loved ones.”
Program Coordinator Miriam McCann (third from left) welcomed a great new group of volunteers to our new Family Resource Centre. She is supported by CAMH colleagues Social Worker Jennifer Grinfeld (centre) and Education Specialist Jacquelyn Waller-Vintar (second from right), and by Registered Nurse Karolynn Smith (not pictured).
“Our volunteers are ready to listen to and support families to make connections with other clinical services as required,” says Miriam. “It’s important to note that we do not provide a clinical crisis service. We do help identify information so that families have a better understanding of how to support themselves and better understand what their loved one is going through. We also offer helpful information to link to community-based resources, services and programs.”
For more information on CAMH’s new Office of Family Engagement: firstname.lastname@example.org
Working group member Pauline Lefebvre-Hinton (below left, with fellow member Jan Stewart) shares her personal experience and describes why CAMH’s new OFE will be a “lifeline and voice” for patients’ families.
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