It’s all in the name for Supporting Families in Mental Illness Manawatū.
“We’re probably one of the few services that our client is the family, not the person with the illness,” manager Christine Zander-Campbell says.
Initially the Schizophrenia Fellowship, Supporting Families has been running for 45 years. It has offices in Palmerston North, Levin and Dannevirke providing support to families affected by mental health and addiction.
In the past financial year the organsiation helped 900 families.
Psychotic behaviour, suicidality, or a recent diagnosis can lead people to their door.
“They’re exhausted quite often when they come to us. They’re in that exhaustion crisis mode,” Zander-Campbell says.
“We work with whatever that’s on top for them at the time. It could be getting services. It could be looking at some strategies for themselves to stay well.”
Sometimes it is about how to access mental health services and talking through the options, from GP referrals to crisis response.
Other times the focus is the impact drugs and alcohol can have on mental health issues — in Zander-Campbell’s experience they often are combined.
“I’d say about 80 per cent of people that have ongoing mental illness quite often have a drug or addiction issue.”
Another issue “more common than not” is supporting families through a system designed to protect the individual rights and privacy of those aged 16 and over, with families often left out of the loop.
“It’s a double-edged sword in that space because whānau are the ones that are actually picking up the pieces or getting them into services.
“Families just want to know what the hell’s going on. What are these pills they’re taking?” she says.
Sometimes, families need advice on the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act.
The Supporting Families service offers support to whānau over the phone and in person. It runs a 10-week programme for anxiety and depression.
It also offers programmes supporting children who have family members with mental illness or, increasingly, have anxiety themselves.
Zander-Campbell says Covid, wild weather and wars are all factors increasing anxiety in children. She warns the impact of social media “could be getting close to the next epidemic”.
Supporting Families runs an eight-week programme in schools and the community.
“I was contacted by a school to do next term and they’ve got a wait-list for it already.”
Zander-Campbell is looking forward to the new mental health ward at Palmerston North Hospital, expected to be completed in 2025, and was involved in supporting the design.
“It’s got to be 100 per cent better than what the ward is at the present moment.”
Staff at Supporting Families have expertise in a range of areas covering psychology, occupational therapy, counselling and nursing.
Zander-Campbell has been working in the area for 26 years and has done plenty of relevant study. “But actually, it’s about learning from the people themselves and listening.”
This profile of a Te Pū Harakeke - Community Collective Manawatū member organisation is part of an occasional series.
– Sonya Holm is a freelance journalist based in Palmerston North