tri201408182654224-jpgJill Calder, right, executive director of the New View Society, and Susanna Walden, communications and marketing coordinator, believe a 12-week educational course that will be offered starting this September will help people whose family members are struggling with mental illness.

By: Diane Strandberg – The Tri-City News
Posted Aug 18, 2014 at 9:00am

Strengthening family connections and helping people gain knowledge and understanding of mental illness are the goals of a new course being offered to Tri-City residents by the New View Society.

Developed by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Family to Family course has helped hundreds of families learn about mental illness, and starting in September, the 12-week training program will be offered in this area to help families who have a relative with a severe mental illness.

Families often feel alone when faced with mental illness and their ability to advocate and navigate the system is often fraught with frustration, explained Nancy Ford, executive director of the North Shore Schizophrenia Society.

Her organization hopes that by introducing the Family to Family course here people in the Tri-Cities will develop the capacity to deal with mental illness. They’ll also meet other families facing a similar situation and build connections with others facing the same issues.

“It saves marriages,” acknowledged Ford who credits a support-worker who took the Family to Family course for helping her deal with a crisis involving her son, who has a mental illness.

He’s now stable and Ford says the course is empowering because it teaches people the causes, symptoms and treatment of illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, obsessive compulsive disorder.

Families come away with greater understanding and a tool kit for navigating the system.  Fathers in particular benefit from the program, and are often encouraged to attend the program at the request of their wives, Ford said.

“We see a huge shift in fathers and their thinking around their sons and daughters, especially their sons. They start with the old ‘pull up your bootstraps’ thinking and then recognize that’s not what this is about and then having some tools.”

Society is in the dark when it comes to dealing with and understanding the causes and treatment of mental illness, especially when it’s linked to substance abuse, and Ford hopes that bringing the Family to Family course to the Tri-Cities the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding these disorders will be reduced.

As well, she would like to see Tri-Cities residents build the capacity to teach the course, which has happened on the North Shore, where the program has been offered for several years. Thanks to funding from the Vancouver Foundation, Family to Family will now be offered twice a year in the Tri-Cities for the next three years, and training sessions for potential teachers will be offered as well.

Jill Calder, New View’s executive director, is pleased to be able to introduce Family to Family to the Tri-Cities because it will make families stronger. ““We are hoping families will see the value in this unique course and take advantage of this educational opportunity.”

The free Family to Family education course runs Tuesday evenings from 7 – 9:30 p.m., Sept. 16 to Dec. 2 at New View, 2050 Mary Hill Road, Port Coquitlam. Space is limited so register early to ensure a spot by contacting Shalene Olsen at 604-941-3222 (ext 142) or Melanie Scott at 604-926-0856 or email new

More information on the course is available on the Northshore Schizophrenia Website