Why I won’t attend your support group

If 1 in 4 Australians experience a mental illness at any time, could that possibly mean that 1 in 4 Australians (give or take a few) are caring for someone with a mental illness at the same time?

And if that’s the case it’s highly likely that those 1 in 4 Australians are busy searching for some form of information, tools or something! to enable a better life for their loved one, for themselves.  Even more likely the situation will be exacerbated leading into the festive season.

I am one of those Australians, the ones on the hunt for the holy grail of support.  Support for my loved one and sometimes support for me too.

Some times, quite often actually it seems that the only pathway that leads to destination support is that of ‘support groups’.  And I’d like to officially tell you that I DON’T WANT YOUR SUPPORT GROUP.

I’m very clear it has nothing to do with talking about the situation.  Both my husband and I are very open about his mental illness and my role as a carer (and wife).  We don’t hide the fact that it’s not always easy  nor do we pretend that there will ever be enough services in our community to offer a holistic solution. (though we have found a fabulous psychologist).

Every six months or so I explore the latest ‘what’s on offer’ list for both my husband and myself to make sure we’re receiving some level of support.  Sometimes (OK, usually) I make these calls when things have gone pretty topsy turvy and let me tell you the calls are often less than satisfactory, here are a few examples:

“There was the crisis phone line that asked me to hold (for 20 minutes) and then the voice operator told me I should call back later

There was the support line that sifted through a computer database that gave neither services close to me nor knew what the services actually did

And then (my favourite) was the call line staffie who told me my problems stemmed from the fact that we didn’t marry before having children (it’s OK, we are married now so don’t panic) !

It’s not that I haven’t tried the ‘support group’ thing, and from many views actually.  I’ve arranged support groups, I’ve recommended them to others and I’ve even advocated for training for people to run them.

In my minds eye support groups are held in dingy dark (and probably stale smelling) rooms, they serve International Roast coffee and people sit around moaning about their issues… forever.

I’m not quite sure at which point I formed this thought of support groups but when I caught up with a friend the other day in a similar caring situation it reminded me that in 2015 I must do more to seek out others who care for spouses with a mental illness – OK, probably in the form of some sort of group environment…

And you know what – if 1 in 4 Australians really are caring for someone with a mental illness right now let me assure you that they are probably having very similar thoughts (and they probably don’t want to attend your group either).  So, if you’re a service manager, worker or someone who is otherwise involved in working in this arena how about helping us to get out of our own way by embracing a few of the following ideas:

* If you’re not online yet – get to it!  The ONLY effective support group I can say I’ve ever used is a Facebook group, it was carefully moderated and provided a loving (anonymous) and supportive environment for care.  IF you don’t want to go there for goodness sake link up your service users with other organisations that do want that audience.

* Let there be light!  Move out of the drab, dark community building, sit out in a park, meet at a cafe or any of a broad range of welcoming public spaces.  I once shocked an entire community services community by asking my men’s worker to host a men’s group IN A PUB.  Guess what!  The guys went, they talked secret men’s business and nobody got rolling drunk.

* Invest in some training for your facilitators in coaching – enabling us to be gently guided to a new way of being

* Don’t make it about misery, we don’t want to wallow, just give us some tools to get on with it and have some fun in the process.  There’s a lot to celebrate in any situation, give us something to look forward to.

* Bring in guest speakers from other services (you probably do that already) – please warn them to NOT be boring and leave the powerpoint presentation at home.  We have our own questions prepared already

* When you market to us please don’t make it sound like our lives are falling apart and don’t ever insinuate that we aren’t coping.  We are (usually) we just want to do it better.  And put the information where we can find it.  Try the gym, school and kindys or places of work.  Mind your language please, we don’t want HELP, we want tools and inspiration, OK call it support if you must.

* Arm yourself with ideas – we’ve seen the brochures already, they don’t help

* Provide us with opportunities for social occasions where we can bring in others, and the person that we’re caring for.  It’s a whole team environment and it’s good to remember that sometimes

* For goodness sake provide some out of work opportunities – once a month maybe?  Many many many of us have busy jobs and kids to care for (revisit online option)

* Consider the support group as a training opportunity and give us some skills to teach others about mental health, wellbeing… We want to relinquish the stigma surrounding mental health and will be your foot soldiers in this effort.

And yeah I know there are many effective support groups out there, my hope is that this perspective will help to bring in the (currently) unreachable audiences, like me.

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