38 years ago, a small group of family members met to plan the beginning of a self-help group for relatives and friends of individuals who had a mental illness. They were motivated by the lack of support and services for individuals with mental health issues and their families in the West Island; which were either inadequate or nonexistent. They compensated for their lack of money, office space and staff members with their tireless vision, creativity and dedication. From the beginning, guest speakers were invited to share their expertise and family members encouraged and supported each other.
For the first nine years, this group, called Friends for Mental Health, survived solely on donations. Then, in 1990, they began receiving funds from the Ministère de la Santé et des Services Sociaux - formerly Centraide - and the Régie Régionale de la Santé et des Services Sociaux. An office was opened, staff members were hired and a respite program was created.
A major change came in 1996 with the implementation of the Family Support Program. This began as a joint project with Perspective Communautaire when some services offered by the hospital were redistributed into the community. Two years later, Friends for Mental Health completely took over and we are extremely proud to have professional counselors who are able to provide counseling services to families in need.
Another first happened in 1999 when 3 board members went for training in Ontario to become leaders for NAMI’s Family-to-Family Education Program. This program is offered twice a year by trained family members who teach other family members about mental illness. Friends for Mental Health also ushered in the beginning of the new millennium with a technological first. By 2001, the organization had their very own website. It was also at this time that the popular Creative Workshops began taking shape, which was an innovative new way to help family members cope with their loved one’s mental illness.
2005 saw Friends for Mental Health as the winner in the Non Profit Organization Working in Social Economy category for the Accolades prize organized by the West Island Chamber of Commerce in June. Then, the organization went on to be a Finalist in 2009, solidifying themselves as one of the leading associations in the field of mental health. In 2007, a Liaison Counselor became available on the premises of the Lakeshore General Hospital once a week to provide support for families who have a mentally ill family member either awaiting evaluation in emergency or residing on the 4-East psychiatric ward. This program has recently been taken over by volunteers. That same year also marked the beginning of training programs with the Borderline Personality Training for Families. This psycho-educational program is deemed as a huge success at the organization.
The following year, in 2008, commenced the High School Educational Awareness Program whereby a counselor from Friends for Mental Health goes into high schools and gives a presentation on mental illness, its symptoms, treatments and resources in their community. By 2009, the organization began offering services to children who have a parent or sibling affected by a mental illness which now extends to week long summer camp format. In 2010, they also launched the Cap Schizophrenia classes. Finally, Friends for Mental Health received the certification from the FFAPAMM (Federation of Families and Friends of People with a Mental Illness) for conforming to the Cadre normatif.
So it is with the remarkable determination of just a few family members that Friends for Mental Health began and has evolved into the organization that it is today, boasting over 1000 members every year! Throughout it all, there has always been one constant: the strength of family members coping with a loved one’s mental illness and their resolve to persevere in spite of it.