• SHARE

An association of families with mentally ill kin has begun a project modeled after a British program to train therapists who can provide mental health services in people’s homes.

Because the families of people with mental illnesses are often exhausted, therapists should be able to meet them at home and decide how best to support them, said Chihiro Adachi, 40, an experienced therapist in the field.

Adachi works for a nursing-care firm in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, that dispatches therapists to care for people with mental illnesses at their homes on a regular basis. Working jointly with doctors, therapists meet the patients and take time to speak with their families.

In one example, a 67-year-old mother asked Adachi in mid-March if her daughter was taking medicine for schizophrenia.

“I will ask when I visit her tomorrow,” Adachi, who met the mother at a hospital, said.

On the advice of Adachi and other therapists, the mother now lives separately from her 30-year-old daughter.

“We used to live together and found ourselves bogged down,” the mother said. “My daughter has recovered thanks to support (from therapists) and I feel at ease now.”

At-home mental health services, though in high demand, are rarely available because nursing-care providers remain chronically short of staff.

The association of families, called the National Federation of Mental Health and Welfare Party in Japan, conducted a survey of some 4,500 member families in fiscal 2009 and found that 83 percent desired expert visits for advice.

Among other findings, 80 percent lived with family members with mental health problems and 50 percent felt stigmatized or lonely because of reasons including trouble with neighbors.

In early March, the federation held symposiums in Kyoto and Tokyo, inviting leaders from the Meriden Family Program, based in Birmingham, England, to promote the development of family-sensitive mental health services.

The Meriden program does not see families as caregivers of the mentally ill but as people who need support. It offers a broad range of treatment procedures, including “talking treatments” for both patients and families.

Since 1998, the program has been providing at-home mental health services in which therapists directly speak with each member of a family and work out treatment plans together with them.

According to the federation, people released from psychiatric hospitals often redevelop symptoms when family support is absent and become rehospitalized. But with support services such as the ones offered by the Meriden program, the recurrence of symptoms can be drastically reduced, Meriden officials said.

In Japan, families often try to work out problems on their own. But Grainne Fadden, a Meriden representative, stressed the need for the involvement of experts, saying that family support groups “do not result in reductions in relapse or rehospitalization.”

Fadden urged listeners to get “professional bodies” into the mix.

Beginning in fiscal 2015, the federation plans to send English-speaking nurses and therapists from Japan to Birmingham to acquire further know-how from the Meriden program.

“We will accumulate results and call on the government to institutionalize” at-home mental health services, said Yoko Kawasaki, head of the federation.

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)