Jim Crowe Jim Crowe CREDIT: Word of Mouth Media NZ

Children in the presence of mental illness the focus of Schizophrenia Awareness Week

Tuesday 6 March 2012, 9:56AM
By Word of Mouth Media NZ

The needs of young people in families coping with mental illness are the primary focus this week of the annual Schizophrenia Awareness Week.

Supporting Families in Mental Illness (SFMINZ) - formerly the Schizophrenia Fellowship - is highlighting the plight of young people in families impacted by mental illness.

``It is a story which is rarely heard,'' SFMINZ spokesperson Jim Crowe said today.

``When a mental illness occurs in a family the whole family is affected. This is something that is far too often overlooked. The challenges faced by younger members of a family are daunting.''

Crowe said mental illness affected one in five New Zealanders during their life time. Each person it affects has a family, and is a member of the community, he said.

Mental well being was not something that was simply about medical treatments. Wellbeing included everyday relationships, family life, and participation in work and leisure activities.

``This is no different for someone with a mental illness. Unfortunately due to misunderstanding and stigma many people affected by mental illness can find themselves isolated and excluded from everyday activities that we all take for granted.''

Crowe said people with a mental illness have significant feelings of lack of security and anxiety which in some cases will cause relapses and unfortunately a return to hospital for treatment. At times like that families and their relative with a mental illness needed community support.

It was important that society paid attention to the social, as well as clinical needs of people in need. Relatives had learned a lot about caring for a family member and they had so much to teach professional care givers. Clinicians should consult with family throughout treatment to improve effectiveness, understanding and empathy, Crowe said.

Family members experienced loss of hopes and expectations for their loved one. They also felt that the relative had has been changed by the illness. Their grief needed to be acknowledged. They need help in coming to terms with both these kinds of loss, he said.

SFMI believes being able to recognise early warning signs and access support is key to improving people affected by mental illness. Schizophrenia is an illness that has much stigma and abuse associated with it. As a major mental illness it is feared and surrounded by lots of myths but it is characterised with depression, anxiety and difficulty concentrating and intrusive thoughts

``These are symptoms we can all experience and relate to. So let us not fear schizophrenia but empathise with it. We also know that it is the relationships around us that are important to recovery,'' Crowe said.