My name is Adina Hauser, and I am a social worker and therapist in Toronto, Ontario. I have over a decade of experience working with youth, young adults, and their families with complex mental health and substance use disorders. I have been involved on a volunteer basis with Eli’s Place now for a few years, supporting the development of the model of care and evaluation strategies for the future of Eli’s Place. I am proud to support such an important and vital addition to our system and our community.
As we approach Family Day this year, I am reflecting on the significance of marking more time physically away from many of our loved ones. We often take for granted the additional support and guidance that a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, an aunt, and countless other loved ones provide. As we enter into another year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the loss of familial support and togetherness is more apparent. For many, young and old, not being able to rely on the help of those around us has major impacts on our health and wellbeing.
When you are a family member of a loved one with serious mental illness, you know how much you are needed. But our systems often fall short in our recognition and value of the impact of family connection. Eli’s Place was born out of family’s love for their child and the recognition that families are also at the centre of recovery and wellness. Our model of care for serious mental illness places family members as major contributors and recipients of support to maintain wellness before, during, and after treatment.
It would behoove us all in the field of mental health and addictions to acknowledge that we spend a finite amount of time with our clients. However, the time, and support that family members provide are infinite in nature. As a professional, I always try to remember that I am asking so much of the family members of my clients – that 99% of the time it is family members who provide the support, not me. When family members are acknowledged and involved in care, it results in better outcomes for everyone. We must not forget this. At Eli’s Place, it will be an essential part of the recovery process to support and aid family members to recover alongside their loved ones. We must acknowledge that mental health issues affect us all in different ways.
In my work with families, I see too often the burden placed on family members not only to provide care, but to shoulder the emotional impact of this work on top of life’s other responsibilities. I’ve sat with many family members whose pain swallows them up whole. I’ve also sat with families as they learn to manage, live with that pain, and find ways to look for acceptance in the midst of sorrow.
There is an oft-used metaphor in the world of mental health, that just as we do on an airplane, we must first put on our own oxygen masks before assisting another person in donning theirs. We translate this to mean that as a family member, it is essential that you are able to support yourself to build your energy and strength to help another person. And when someone experiences chronic and serious difficulties with their mental health, it is that much more important that family members build a reserve for the long haul. This also means learning to replenish reserves as they become depleted.
Young people are at the intersection of great cognitive, physical, and spiritual development, all of which can be disturbed by the emergence of mental illness. It saddens me greatly to see the challenges this presents to a young person, who is supposed to be at the start of a bright and big future. I can’t even imagine, as a parent or a loved one, how heartbreaking it would be to witness and experience those we care deeply about having to face mental illness. We want so badly to shield our loved ones from the pain this causes or to somehow change the course of their suffering. We learn, as we go, that we must radically accept what is happening to us and our loved ones before we can truly cope with the challenges ahead. Radical acceptance is about living in the reality we have, not pretending in the reality we want. That only stands to increase our suffering. As a family member, we need to be able to see someone through the entire journey and to be there as things shift, change, and evolve. At Eli’s Place, our goal will be for family members to have the support and guidance they will need to see their loved ones through the journey of recovery that continues long after they have participated in our program. Families will be supported through the transition back home once residential treatment has concluded, so that the positive impacts of recovery do not stop when one exits our doors. Transitional support for the client and family members into the future is a cornerstone of our model.
At Eli’s Place, we know the profound impact that mental illness has on young people. We also know that families are key to their recovery and wellness, and this gives me hope on this Family Day and for the future to come.
Adina Hauser is a volunteer member of the Eli’s Place Models of Care Committee. She got involved out of a passion for ensuring young people have access to the care they need.