The COPMI national initiative collaborates with many people who have a lived experience of mental illness and family life, who are passionate about using their experience to help others in similar situations.
We asked one of our Lived Experience Representatives (Fred Ford) about the work he does to raise awareness for COPMI. We want to thank Fred (and all of our lived experience collaborators) for the effort and hard work they put in to sharing our messages with others.
Can you tell us about your involvement with COPMI?
‘As a member of the CNLEF (COPMI National Lived Experience Forum) I use my lived experiences to help COPMI develop and review materials and resources and also support COPMI by promoting them in differing forums at a local and national level.’
Why did you decide to start actively raising the awareness of COPMI in health services?
‘I wanted to draw their attention to COPMI and see them benefit. Many workers know of COPMI but are not necessarily aware of what COPMI has to offer in the way of materials and resources, or how COPMI can assist them in working with families where a parent has mental illness. An example of this is the Family Focus intervention training for workers. It helps to put families and in particular children/young carers in the forefront of their minds.’
How did you get to access to these health services?
‘I have past experiences with local health services, both as a carer and an advocate. So I used my network of contacts to assist and organise venues and times that suited different teams to listen to me talk about COPMI. I also held sessions for community-managed organisations. I’m fortunate that my contacts were able to access venues at no charge and distribute flyers for me, and also to support me on the day. In most cases they were Carer Support workers or in the case of Victoria the local FaPMI (COPMI) coordinator.’
What do you talk to them about?
‘I give them a brief history of my journey as a parent/carer and talk about my advocacy roles. I also provide a bit of information and some statistics on children in families with mental illness, including issues and resilience factors for these children and their parents with a mental illness. I go through what COPMI does and doesn’t do and a virtual trip through the web site, highlighting the young people’s section and the education available for professionals (emphasising the availability of CPD or continuing professional development points).’
Do you share any of your personal story, if so, what has this been like for you?
‘Yes, I use examples of my lived experience to help emphasise and humanise my main points during the presentation. I find this has a bigger impact on people listening than all the facts and figures and is often what will be remembered. I have presented in various forums and often have people come up and say how much they appreciated hearing my story and my experiences. The secret is not to overdo it, just provide enough to emphasise the point.’
What has the reaction been from the staff you present to?
‘Extremely positive. The use of Karl’s story from the Family Focus DVD has been very powerful in getting our messages across and you can see the reaction on people’s faces after watching it. There is often a moment or two of quiet before anyone speaks. I show the video last so that it’s what they go away with. While it is a bit long at half an hour, I’ve only had one comment in feedback about this. Most of the responses are very positive and people appreciate the experience.’
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
‘As someone that has a lived experience of mental illness and uses this as a tool to educate others, I have to remember that at times it can have an effect on me and others in the room. I have to be prepared for this. It’s particularly evident for me as Karl’s story is very close to the bone in that it evokes some feelings for me from my childhood.
One piece of advice I would give to others is: When taking about your experiences to an audience, do not be afraid of a bit of emotion. Be aware that it may come up and take a little time to compose yourself if you need. You will be surprised at the impact it has on your audience. Genuineness is the way to connect with others. It is also important to only talk about what you and your family are comfortable with. Remember, once you have said it, it’s out there and you can’t take it back.’