Program serves families facing mental health issues

March 9, 2020

Caregivers of those suffering from a mental illness receive compassion and patience from the specially-educated staff at Intensive Family Support Services (IFSS) — a program under the Catholic Charities, Diocese of Metuchen umbrella that focuses on improving overall functioning and quality of life for the families and friends of adult individuals living with serious mental health issues.

Located in Bridgewater, this free educational advocacy program serves any resident of Somerset County whose loved one has a mental health diagnosis and needs some type of assistance. Sixteen other counties in New Jersey also offer the service.

Geared toward families, the service provides various forms of aid including one-on-one consultations, psycho-education workshops, case management, Monday and Wednesday evening family support groups, guest speakers, respite opportunities to relax and re-energize, and medication education.

“There are so many family members that are just dealing with this on a daily basis and they don’t realize the amount of stress that they’re living with,” said LuAnn Dias, IFSS service area director for Somerset County and a 22-year veteran of Catholic Charities. “We want to offer just a little bit of relief with a little bit of help and support in dealing with that.”

An initial call to the office will be answered by Brian Rubinstein, IFSS program supervisor. In his role, he provides comfort to the caller and determines how best the program can meet their needs. Issues range from housing for a loved one who is refusing to take their medications and needs a place to stay temporarily, to assistance in applying for benefits such as disability or social security. Many caregivers have questions or concerns but aren’t sure what resources are available.

“If they need support, that’s what we’re here for,” Rubinstein says.

The staff listens and empathizes with each client in order to find a solution. “You have to think outside the box on problem-solving for a lot of things because when you’re in that world of stress, and dealing with everything, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees,” says Dias. “Brian and his staff can take a more objective look.”

Sometimes, religion is a vital factor to the caregiver and will be incorporated into the resources provided. However, all denominations and backgrounds are welcome to participate in the program.

“We do assess the importance of spirituality and the importance of what that brings to their core values and how they problem solve,” explains Dias.

After six months, the program outcomes are reviewed with the caregiver. If need be, an annual assessment is also conducted to determine if IFSS services are still necessary — an important component of the continuum of care embodied by the Catholic Health Association.

Should a more intensive outpatient program be a better fit for a loved one, the SPIRIT (Supportive Partners In Recovery and In Treatment) program is also onsite, or a referral to an outside provider will be conveyed.

Another technique the team uses to understand and relate to the caregiver is by having a part-time peer support specialist share with clients his or her own personal challenges and journey through the IFSS program. By hearing how a peer coped, caregivers then feel more engaged and work past the mental health stigma. The peer also helps them navigate through the healthcare and benefits system.

IFSS staff is available every weekday until 9 p.m., except Friday (5 p.m closing). Consultations are conducted either in-home or in a community setting. Since it began in August 2018, the program has welcomed 59 families and 88 individuals.

“I think it’s hard for a lot of people to ask for that support,” says Dias. “Just take that first step, in at least making a phone call.”

D.J. Atwater, a client of the program, said, “IFSS has been incredibly helpful and a tremendous support team for me. They have reached out to me when I needed help the most and helped me understand my limitations as well as potential as a parent of a mentally ill adult family member. They have reached out to me and reminded me of various programs that they offer, educational and inspiring.”

The Bridgewater Family Service Center, 540 Route 22 East and can be reached by calling (908) 722-1881.

Donations of clothing, gift cards for groceries & gas, and non-perishable food items are gladly accepted.

[This article by Debra Stevko Miller appeared originally in The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey.]

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