Often nothing is as enlightening or comforting as being with others who are struggling with similar issues in life.
Understanding that support can be found in like-minded circles is the philosophy behind a course starting in Squamish next week for families of those struggling with mental illness.
Pathways Serious Mental Illness Society is offering the 2019 Family-to-Family Education Course — an intensive, free 12-week program for families dealing with mental illness.
Topics covered include symptoms of mental illnesses, medications, problem solving, working with the mental health system, self-care for caregivers, and communication.
Squamish's Brittany Beggs took the course three years ago after her 16-year-old sister Lindsay died from a fentanyl overdose.
"She passed away after suffering from her mental health and addiction," Beggs told The Chief.
Her sister was a kind, gentle and "artsy" person.
"She was really musical. Her friends quoted her after her death as always someone who listened and who they could come to and she would be so caring and trustworthy."
The pressures of life led Lindsay to depression and to self-medicate to numb herself.
"That is common, we all do that," Beggs said, noting having a glass of alcohol or smoking pot is more normalized in our society.
Her sister moved from pot to street and prescription drugs.
"My parents didn't know how to reach her," she said.
While her sister was ill, Beggs said she saw stigma and denial even with her own family.
"Taking the course after helped me realize all the tools I could have brought to my parents. Specifically, they teach communication tools and how to work with people who do have depression and anxiety," she said.
The health care system can be a labyrinth and family are the biggest support an ill person has, said Beggs, who also does some work with the society, including outreach in the Sea to Sky Corridor.
"When you are unwell, you can't really advocate well for yourself," she said.
Beggs said some may hesitate to take such a course because they don't think their family's situation is serious enough, especially when they see the name of the society hosting it includes "serious mental illness," but she encourages those people to go.
"You can learn so much from this course and talk openly about it without being embarrassed or feeling ashamed and learn from the other parents."
The course is led by trained family members who themselves have had ill relatives and years of experience navigating the health system.
Squamish's Eric Horrobin, who works for Vancouver Coastal Health as a peer support worker with Sea to Sky Mental Health and Substance Use Services, said that knowing the people teaching the course have been through the same things as participants have is a big plus.
"I think that is the powerful thing — once you can let people know that, 'I have been there. I really feel your pain,” he said.
The 2019 Family to Family Education Course starts the week of Feb. 4 from 7 to 9:30 p.m.
For more information, go to www.pathwayssmi.org/education/ familyto-family-course/.
To register, call 604-926-0856 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.