Mental health is family health

Darrell
Darrell Cole
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Cumberland County offers family therapy program

Mental health services is offering a new family program aimed to help mental health patients and their families deal with the stress of mental illness.

Gillian Harris (left) and Christiana MacDougall Fleming look over information on the Meridan Family Program. The Cumberland Mental Health workers were in England in February to become behavioural family therapy trainers.

AMHERST – There was a time when families shied away from loved ones suffering from mental illness.

A new comprehensive family-centered program is helping to change attitudes and is offering care not only to mental health patients, but their families as well.

“It’s a way of working with families,” Christiana MacDougall Fleming said. “It’s a skills deficit model as opposed to a family pathology model. It’s less about looking at how families aren’t functioning and takes the view that families are doing quite well, but when under stress they need some additional skills.”

The program is used more extensively in the Capital District and is being introduced in the Cumberland Health Authority and families wishing to participate can contact Cumberland Mental Health for more information.

MacDougall Fleming said a mental illness diagnosis is often very difficult for the entire family unit and because parents and siblings don’t understand mental illness or how to effectively respond to it there’s added stress.

“Meridan looks at filling those skills gaps rather than restructuring family dynamics,” Harris said. “Historically, families may not have wanted to get involved or they may not have understood what they could do. Health care in general was not always open to family involvement even if families want to be involved. This is all about reaching out to families and responding to families.”

MacDougall Fleming said the program is about communication and how to express feelings, both positive and negative, as well as developing listening and coping skills.

Harris and MacDougall Fleming traveled to England in February to become behavioural family therapy trainers for the province and they are now training other clinicians on the Meridan program that encourages family involvement in the mental health system.

There were 48 other participants at the seminar, including clinicians from Scotland, Ireland and Nigeria.

Harris said the program is still relatively new in Cumberland County, but has been successful in Halifax. Because it’s newer hear, officials are still gathering families that want to be involved. Still, she said, the initial feedback has been good.

Families wishing to participate in the program can call Cumberland Mental Health at 667-3879.

darrell.cole@tc.tc

Twitter: @ADNdarrell

Organizations: Cumberland Health Authority

Geographic location: Cumberland County, England, Scotland Ireland Nigeria Halifax

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