28 January 2010

The University of Queensland has joined a consortium trialling a new support program for families caring for relatives with mental illness.

The Manager of UQ’s Research Centre for Youth Substance Abuse, Dr Angela White, said families in this situation often experienced significant levels of emotional and practical stress, trauma, anxiety, disruption and strain.

She said more family members were needed to take part in trialling the new program entitled “Family Connections” and funded by Rotary Health Australia.

"Studies have shown that up to 60 percent of these families have significant physical, emotional and psychiatric health problems including depression," Dr White said.

"Some family members may also face difficulties accessing existing services, for example due to issues of geographical isolation, or work commitments. Other family members may access treatment programs but may not receive adequate information."

The new program, being trialled by UQ in conjunction with the Queensland University of Technology and the University of Wollongong, is a correspondence-based support program for family members caring for relatives with psychosis.

"Family Connections is about helping family members move forward with their own lives in keeping with what is most important to them, even with the reality of caring for a relative with mental illness," Dr White said.

"The analogy is used of being on a plane. It is important to fit your own oxygen mask, before helping others. The program shifts away from a traditional focus on illness and related problems to include recognition of strengths and exercises and skills that focus on improving wellbeing and facilitating hope among the family."

Dr White said the program also provided information on mental illness itself as well as helpful advice on navigating the mental health system, treatment, managing symptoms and available resources and support.

"To date we have been receiving positive feedback from family members taking part in the Family Connections program. For example, one family member told us '...this program has been good for reflecting, thinking, made me feel calmer. Reading stories of other people is reassuring-nice and gives me the feeling that I am not alone. The program has helped me to sit back and to say it is OK to focus on me. It has been excellent and I am really glad that I said yes to the program.'''

Dr White said about 50 family members were currently taking part in the program but researchers were eager for more participants.

"The advantage of using a correspondence-based program is that participants can be from any part of Australia. Currently, participants come from all over Australia, from Tasmania to Queensland and New South Wales to Western Australia," she said.

People caring for a family member with psychosis who would like to take part in the trial can call toll-free 1800 153 340.

Media: Dr Angela White (angela.white@uq.edu.au or 3346 4834) or Shirley Glaister at UQ Communications (3365 1931 or 043 812 9083).