Father and daughter hit by mental illness

FIFTEEN years have passed since one young Donegal woman first noticed things were starting to unravel within her family life.
Mary (not her real name) felt paralysed. Her precious daughter had just been diagnosed with a mental health illness. Within months so too had her husband.
“I felt that I was trapped inside a box. There were no windows or doors – no way out,” she said.
Mary knew very little about schizophrenia and had no one to turn to. And then there was the stigma.
“My daughter had been in a bad place for so long. It was like a mourning process for me. I thought that she would never get better and would never again be the person that I knew so well and loved.
“The flip side of that is that my daughter had similar feelings and emotions and she too thought that she would never get her life back but you always have to have that little bit of hope,” Mary said.
It was at that point that she was directed towards the Eolas programme for family members and carers of people living with mental health issues.
The programme offers an eight-week peer and clinician led mental health programme focused on information about mental health difficulties, learning how the mental health services work and coping strategies to enable recovery.
The programme, which was first rolled out in Donegal in 2017, is just for family members and carers. There is a parallel programme for service users.
The programme, which started last Thursday evening in Letterkenny, runs for eight weeks and gives sufferers and family members a chance to talk honestly in a confidential setting without fear of stigma in the presence of peers and clinicians.
Forum for sharing
Eolas allows people to have conversations they can’t have at home or anywhere else. It’s a forum for sharing and getting information
“Neither my daughter or husband woke up one morning and decided that they had mental health issues. There’s a lack of understanding. Quite often there are underlying problems for years before the person is diagnosed and gets help,” she said.
“They’re lying in bed all day with the curtains closed and people think they’re crazy lazy but physically and mentally they’re not able to get out of bed. It’s important to start a conversation. It’s about us as a family understanding what’s happening. If you understand it takes a lot of fear out of the situation,” she added.
Mary’s daughter would spend all day sleeping and then running around all night. She wasn’t eating and it was causing friction within the family unit.
“I went to the doctor with my daughter and she got help. The mistake many of us make is that we try and fix the person but it’s more about understanding the illness,” she said.
“Through Eolas I’ve learned about the importance of taking time out for yourself. You have to be able to take a step back. You want to protect your loved ones but you also have to learn to give them back responsibility. Maybe it may only involve them making a cup of tea but that might well be a massive step forward for them.”
She added: “I felt really lost and alone but through the Eolas programme people understand how you feel. They understand that not every day is a lovely day. We learn about the importance of looking after our own health as we’re totally engulfed in trying to fix a loved one forget about ourselves,” she said.
Other family members have said that the programme decreased their sense of isolation, shame and loneliness, allowing them to develop friendships and supports after the programme ended.
The Eolas programme continues in the Letterkenny Women’s Centre on Thursdays, between 6.30pm and 8pm and will run for the next six weeks. For further information contact Paul Cartin on (087) 6753453.

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