YOUNG MINDS: Family-inclusive care vital

Schizophrenia is the topic of this month's White Rock-South Surrey Division of Family Practice column

  • Nov. 17, 2016 11:00 a.m.

Peace Arch News publishes a monthly column for the White Rock-South Surrey Division of Family Practice addressing issues surrounding youth mental health.

In this article, Mike Singleton addresses schizophrenia.

Fifteen years ago, when my 16-year-old daughter Ashleigh was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I was devastated.

She had been admitted to hospital in full-blown psychosis, and I was left standing outside the psych unit, unable to see her or talk to her.

No one would tell me what was going on.

She had been hearing voices since she was 14, but I had no idea. As a single dad, I was her only caregiver, yet I felt desperate and shut out from her care. Looking back at that time, I felt extremely frightened about her future.

Her late mother, who had died a few years earlier, had schizophrenia and I had witnessed firsthand her struggles and her deteriorating function.

I felt shut out of her mother’s care, too. And I feared Ashleigh, and our family, faced the same isolating, desolate, dark road.

Fortunately, a great deal has changed in the intervening years in B.C. around the care for serious mental illness.

I can now say with confidence – and from our own family experience – that recent changes in mental-health care and policy are positively affecting outcomes. And these changes are providing new hope to caregivers, improving recoveries and increasing the ability for those with mental illness to live full lives.

No longer are families and caregivers left on the sidelines, not consulted nor seen as integral to a patient’s successful care.

In fact, in recent years,  Fraser Health has adopted patient-centered, recovery-oriented care inclusive of families.

What does that mean to Ashleigh and me? It means I can attend Ashleigh’s appointments. Her psychiatrist will talk to me about her care. I am seen as an important part of the team supporting her.

The team also includes doctors and counsellors, psycho-social rehabilitation workers and the community as a whole. Those who have never experienced a mental-health issue can be amazed this was not always the case. But those of us who know the system well know that this is a recent shift. I liken it to us moving out of the Dark Ages – or what I experienced with my late wife’s illness, where I was never consulted nor seen as part of her successful care.

It is a new enlightened age, where we are using evidence-based practices to produce the best possible recovery outcomes. It means I, as a family member, can provide the best care for my daughter because I am involved in her recovery progress.

It means I no longer have to carry the load.

Since 2012, this team-based, family-inclusive care has been written in the service plan for Fraser Health and other health authorities in B.C.

It means we as patients and family members have a voice. More effective anti-psychotic medication and effective early psychosis intervention are also making a difference.

I am happy to report that Ashleigh, now 31, is living successfully on her own. I am still an integral part of her support system. She has friends and is working as a peer support worker on a mental-health unit.

She does speaking engagements about mental-health issues, such as talking to high schools. She has her own blog and website (recovery.psychosissupport.com). She is happy that I am writing this column.

My despair has been replaced with pride and hope. And it all came from a switch to patient-centred care inclusive of the family.

Mike Singleton is a member of the White Rock-South Surrey Local Action Team, one of 64 working as part of a provincial Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative funded by Doctors of BC and the B.C. government.

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