Joyce Burland recalls, during one of her first meetings for families of mentally ill people, seeing a silver-haired couple who looked serene. They had twin sons, both with schizophrenia, and had been grappling with that reality for about 60 years.
The couple hadn’t abandoned their sons, and they were very much involved in their lives. Burland, whose 30-something sister with five children had recently become delusional – “it was a mess,” Burland said – wondered how she could achieve anything approaching serenity. She remembers the sight of that couple as “a guiding moment.”
A clinical psychologist, Burland would go on to write a 12-week course for families of people with mental illness, which is used across the United States, and in Mexico and Italy. Her course, called Family-To-Family or F2F, is intended to move people from panic and struggle to living in relative peace with a long-term, debilitating illness.
“Our job is to move the illness to a factor in families’ lives, not the only fact, so they can live with joy and spontaneity while undertaking a really long job,” said Burland, who is now the national director of the Education, Training and Peer Education Support Center for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The organization advocates for individuals and families affected by mental illness.
The success of Burland’s program, which has served about 375,000 people since its start in 1991, made me wonder whether it could help people living with another arduous, life-long problem: addiction. Last year, 442 people died of opiate overdoses on Long Island – a record, up from 403 a year earlier. This is a battle we are losing to heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl.
People in the anti-drug community on Long Island say they have support groups, but nothing as extensive as F2F. Burland agreed that her program could be useful for families coping with addiction – not as a replacement for something else, but as one more tool. More »