A programme that has been hugely successful in helping people learn about their mental illness and how to cope with it is being rolled out nationally.
More than eight out of 10 people (84%) with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who participated in the Eolas information programme said their well-being had improved.
Their confidence in dealing with their mental distress; their hope and attitudes towards their own recovery; and their ability to advocate on their own behalf all improved.
Family members who took part also benefited from the eight week programme — 98% said they would recommend it to others.
The Eolas information programme is unique because it has been co-designed and co-delivered by mental health services users and their families, together with clinical practitioners.
Traditionally, mental health information programmes in Ireland and internationally have been practitioners.
The Eolas programme uses discussion groups and individual learning activities as well as inputs from visiting experts.
In the initial small project in 2011 there were 55 participants — those with a diagnosis and family members.
During the second phase of the project there were 170 participants, with more than 100 involved in evaluation of the project by Trinity College Dublin’s School of Nursing and Midwifery.
The project was a venture between the HSE Kildare/West Wicklow Mental Health Service, Shine, the Irish Advocacy Network and Kildare Youth Services.
It was originally funded through the Genio Trust but is now fully funded by the HSE.
Professor in mental health at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at TCD and lead investigator in the evaluation of the project, Agnes Higgins, said it redressed the power imbalance and some of the information deficits within mental health services.
Consultant psychiatrist and chairman of the Eolas project steering committee, Pat Gibbons, said the programme focused on learning from the lived experiences of people with mental health difficulties and of the people close to them.
A family member who took part in the programme described it as a godsend.
“I was so much in the dark... I was like a zombie walking the streets,” said the participant. “No direction to go, no plan, no understanding. After attending that course, I had a plan, I had an understanding.”
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