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All in the family: DVD shows intimate portraits of families affected by mental illness and addiction

Six families. Six stories. The newly released DVD from the Family Council lays bare the anguish and confusion of family members who have had their nearest and dearest affected by mental health and addiction issues.

Premiering October 19 to an audience which included some of the participants of the video, Family Council Coordinator Susan Allen hopes the video will, "increase advocacy for families, expand the knowledge to clinical orientation and be used as an educational tool for staff."

The families profiled include:

The Southam family
Peter and Elsa Southam didn’t know what to think when their newly-graduated son Dave began to withdraw. He was highly irritable, suffered from intense headaches and couldn’t stand noise, even birds chirping. After numerous medical tests, they tried psychiatry.

At the panel discussion held after the Family Council’s DVD showing, Peter Southam, father of Dave (left), talked about how Dave’s illness changed the family dynamic and the lack of family support resources.

Dave was diagnosed with severe depression and the dynamics of his family changed. “I was without hope but my parents gave it to me,” says Dave. “I wanted to get well soon because I knew how it was hurting my family.”

Elsa spoke of feeling diminished every time Dave was re-admitted. “It’s important when someone is in and out of hospitals that you bring out the big guns every time to let them know you’re working to make them better.”

The Loranger family
For Marc Loranger bipolar disorder set in quickly. His father Peter recounted lying awake at night thinking “this can’t be happening.” But it was, and the involvement of his family was crucial. One of the major challenges to his recovery was the enormous burden of stigma Marc felt within his family and neighbours. “The stigma is worse than the illness,” he says.

Marc Loranger (left) recalls his struggle with bipolar disorder and the stigma which surrounded him. Dexter Grandison (right) struggled to understand the depression his son experienced. Both Mark and Dexter relied heavily on family support to pull them through.

At one point he was hospitalized after being awake for four days without eating. Marc told a psychiatrist during an assessment that he had been eating and sleeping regularly. Peter was shocked since he knew it wasn't true. Peter approached the doctor later and told him none of what his son said was true. Without his father present, the doctors would have acted on incorrect information. The importance of family involvement is exemplified in this case.

The Grant family
Ian Grant couldn’t keep friends and couldn’t be less interested in anything. Before his concurrent disorders diagnosis his father Keith “had a hard time understanding why someone so smart didn’t want to get into anything.” His sister Jennifer Nash was embarrassed by him. “He couldn’t make friends, we were all he had. His loneliness is what kept him close to us.” In the end it was group sessions and his parents’ resolve to work together that helped him to recover.

The Glikus family
Leah Glikus was left alone with three young children when her husband, diagnosed with concurrent disorders, abandoned her. At the time, she was lucky to have left the house alive with her children because he became violent during a psychotic episode.

As if that were not devastating enough, Leah and her children entered the system -- social services, family welfare and on and on. “We had to keep repeating our story. Every time it felt like the wound was reopened.”

“There doesn’t seem much out there to support families. There’s a lot of work that goes into getting family members admitted to the hospital.”

The Grandison family
Dexter Grandison knew something was wrong with his teenaged son when he stopped playing basketball. “It was his passion,” explains Dexter. His son became sad and he was isolating himself from friends and family. Dexter’s small family unit included his aunt and his parents. His son's mother, who suffered from clinical depression, was out of the picture. “I started to see the similarity in his actions to that of his mother. Except when she told me what was happening, I didn’t understand. As a parent, you go into denial and it’s a hard fight.”

The Li family
“In Hong Kong mental illness is not something you talk about. Other families try to hide it but it takes energy away from helping people and it negates the already ill,” says Linda Li, whose son was in the throes of his first episodes of psychosis.

Linda’s mother was deeply ashamed and didn’t want to be part of Linda’s or her son’s life. Linda turned to CAMH’s First Episode Psychosis clinic. “This saved his life and mine. I don’t have the strength to do it on my own. But the professionals at LEARN (Learning Employment Advocacy Recreation Network), are a great support.”

For more information about the Family Council, please contact susan_allen@camh.net or 416 535-8501, ext. 6499.

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