DBSA National Conference 2013: Support for our supporters

Posted by Sappho on June 24th, 2013 filed in Bipolar Disorder, Classes, Lectures, and Conferences


The second break out session that I attended, on the Chapter Leadership day, was the one on “Support for our supporters,” at which Phyllis Foxworth, of one of Chicago’s many DBSA chapters, spoke of her experience starting a family and friends group. As Joel and I divided the break out sessions, I was the natural one to attend this one, as he’s the one with bipolar disorder and I’m the wife. In our own small chapter, when we have a family and friends group, I lead it.

Of the two mental health advocacy groups with which I have experience, NAMI has the stronger family and friends orientation, while DBSA tends to tilt more toward the patient/consumer/client (take your pick of which word you prefer to use for yourself) perspective. I’ve attended NAMI’s free twelve week Family to Family class, which I strongly recommend to family members wanting to know more about mental illness and how to cope with it, and I know that NAMI also has its own family support groups.

DBSA Orange County has a family support group that meets monthly, the first Saturday of each month, at 1 pm at a hospital in Huntington Beach. Some of its other meetings are for patients and family, while others are for patients only.

Our chapter, DBSA South Orange County, has two meetings, both for patients and family. The way we work it is that if only a few people show up, we combine everyone in one room, but if more people show, I take the family members in a separate room. My experience is that we usually get family members for just one or two meetings.

Phyllis Foxworth, on the other hand, has gotten a family and friends group going that meets weekly (not monthly like the Orange County one), and which has a group of regular members, as well as people who pass through more briefly. Here are my notes on what she said. (I also got a hand out. I didn’t take many notes at this session, so my notes will be brief.)

Family reaction has a big effect on the severity of symptoms ad the probability of relapse. Phyllis cited two studies backing this up.

One of the big lessions that Phyllis needed to learn, as the mother of a daughter with bipolar disorder, was the difference between trying to solve problems for her and acceptance.

Integrate your family and friends group with the chapter. For example, periodically have joint speakers, holiday parties, picnics, etc.

They have an educational topic at every meeting, read a passage from a book and then talk about it. They use four or five standard books for the educational topics. This gets people reading the books.

They meet weekly, the only weekly family and friends group in Chicago. They make up a standard newcomer’s kit, and as one person greets another goes through the newcomer’s kit with new people.

If someone is in crisis, one facilitator can take that person aside.

They collect names and email addresses.

We got handouts on educational topics.

She does outreach with business cards with her email address, which she gives to therapists.

She emails her newsletter, using blind ccs, to everyone who has showed up to her family support group.


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