Island News

Families as partners in mental health care

Written By : MARIKE SOLVALU. The Family Support Network (FSNet) in Mental Health is a group that focuses on the support of families and friends who care for people with
13 Nov 2010 12:00

image Written By : MARIKE SOLVALU. The Family Support Network (FSNet) in Mental Health is a group that focuses on the support of families and friends who care for people with a mental illness.
Through opportunities for information sharing and mental health education they aim to empower families and carers in their role.
FSNet was formed in the run up to World Mental Health Day in October 2009. Since then, FSNet has conducted workshops for more than 100 families.
This has been possible with funding support from the AusAid funded Fiji Health Sector Improvement Programme in the Ministry of Health.
There is recognition that the financial and social issues present in developing countries like Fiji, are exacerbated by the burden of mental illness.
Most families struggle to accommodate the new responsibilities of caring for someone who is ill. Mental illness is uniquely challenging for families as the symptoms are expressed in behaviours.
There are competing explanations for why someone may be acting strangely and which range from ‘Devil Possession’, curses, suspected substance use, or medical explanations such as mental illness.
Families are faced with difficult decisions as to where to seek assistance and FSNet aims to increase awareness about medical services which are available.
Carers of people with severe types of mental illness have particular difficulty supporting their loved ones to return to the community because of insufficient community supports in the field of mental health disability.
A renewed focus on community based care emphasises the need to provide care for people in the least restrictive environment i.e. preventing unnecessary admissions to hospital. Community based care relies on the successful engagement of families and the community at large.
However, challenges to this are a lack of families’ involvement in the treatment of their loved ones and raises issues regarding expectations of recovery and rehabilitation.
Fear and isolation is another issue that hinders the engagement of families to mental health services and is related to the damaging stigma associated with mental ill health.
FSNet is currently working in partnership with St Giles Hospital, Fiji Alliance for Mental Health and other mental health stakeholders to provide information and mental health education to families and carers of people who suffer from mental health problems.
FSNet is working closely to register in Fiji as a charitable organisation, but challenges exist threaten the sustainability of FSNet.
These challenges include the efficacy of the evidence-based family intervention programmes in mental health services.
The ability of families to participate given their resources are already stretched by the burden of the disease, and the impact of stigma on involvement of families.
Therefore, FSNet will require support from local and international mental health stakeholders to continue this much needed resource for families and carers of people with mental illness.
Tips for carers and families:
Questions you should ask:
lKnowledge about your loved one
l The name of disorder or mental health problem?
l What are signs /symptoms or behaviour of the illness?
l What medication are they taking?
l How do they take their medication?
l Reason for taking medication?
lAny side effects?
l When is the next clinic date?
Skills required of carers and families
lKnowledge about local mental health support networks?
lKnowledge about carers’ rights and legislations.
lAre you coping with other family members?
l Strategy planning and goal settings to prevent relapse and possible separation.
lProductivity and functional of your loved one?
Any information or support for FSNet to email : or contact St. Giles Hospital on 338 1399. Marike Solvalu is the FSNet coordinator and secretary of the Fiji Alliance for Mental Health (FAMH).

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