Books and Halifax-based resources for families of people diagnosed with mental illness

Since I wrote about mental illness awareness campaigns for The Globe and Mail, quite a few people have contacted me to ask about resources.

(This post covers resources dealing with psychosis, because they are the ones I am familiar with. I don’t know much about support for mood and eating disorders, or other mental illnesses yet.)

Nearly four years ago, I knew essentially nothing about psychosis. And finding resources wasn’t easy. It’s not that they are hidden—but there are many different groups, and they all have a slightly different focus, and there was no central location to find out about them. When you have a family member experiencing psychosis it tends to throw your world into turmoil and you don’t always have the time, focus, or ability to find out what’s out there.

So I thought it might be helpful to list a few resources for family members: a couple of books and some groups here in Halifax, where I live.

Before getting to them though, I want to point out that recovery can be a long and slow process. (It doesn’t have to be, but it can be.) If you’re the family member of a young person recovering from psychosis, patience is really important. People can remain part of the Nova Scotia Early Psychosis Program—an outpatient clinic—for five years, because, as one staff member told me, “Sometimes we don’t see real change until the fourth year.”

Brains are complicated and they need time to recover. One psychiatrist said to me, "People complain that there is nothing to do on the psych ward, but they don't realize boredom is part of the treatment." (If you are on the psych ward and bored this may be cold comfort, mind you.) So if your family member’s recovery seems slow to you, remember to practice patience.


The Nova Scotia Early Psychosis Program is a leader in care for young people. It serves people who meet the following criteria:

  • Between the ages of 15-35

  • Experiencing a first episode of psychosis

  • Have been treated for less than 6 months with an anti-psychotic medication

  • Have had active, untreated psychosis for less than one year at the time of referral

The program's website, including contact information, is here.

Educating families is an important part of the NSEPP’s mission, because well-informed family members are better able to support their loved ones and help them in their recovery.

Early Psychosis also offers a very informative family education day once or twice a year (this is a good one for siblings to attend) and also offers a monthly support group for family of people in the program. Contact them for information on all of these.

If you want to read my article about our family’s experience with the Nova Scotia EPP you can find it here.

Laing House not only offers excellent programming and activities for young people diagnosed with mental illness, it also runs a really helpful monthly support group open to anyone. Both this and the NSEPP group usually have a speaker followed by open discussion. The Laing group runs the first Monday of every month. Info on family support at Laing House is here.

Despite its name, the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia serves a range of people, not only those with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The group runs programs for people with lived experience, including a weekly support group called From Recovery to Discovery, and a group for people who hear voices. It also runs family education and support programs, and hosts an annual conference in fall. The conference is usually priced very reasonably so families can attend, and includes lectures and panels on a range of topics. I’ve been once and found it helpful. Contact SSNS for more details.

Once a year, Dalhousie hosts the W.O. McCormick Academic Day conference. Although the name makes it sound like it’s just for academics, Academic Day is open to all. Each year’s conference has a theme. Last year’s was—not surprisingly—on cannabis and psychosis. The event is not designed specifically for family members, but you can pick up a lot of useful information.

The 2019 Academic Day is on May 10. Tickets are not yet available, but keep an eye on the website, because they go fast. The event is free, but space is limited.

Finally, I’d like to recommend a couple of books. If you are in Halifax, they are both available at the library (see the links below). They are also easy to find if you want to buy them.

Writer Ann Douglas may be best known for her books on pregnancy and babies, but she is also the author of Parenting Through the Storm, a book about parenting children diagnosed with a mental illness. While she is writing mostly for parents of kids in elementary and high school, I still found the book really helpful—especially her discussion of how to understand recovery.

Another incredibly useful book is I Am Not Sick, I Don't Need Help by Dr. Xavier Amador—a psycholoist who has worked with people with psychosis and whose brother had schizophrenia. Amador shows how to stop arguing with family members over whether or not they are sick or need medication, and how to have better, more productive conversations. I know several people who have used this book effectively, and I’ve gone back to it many times. I want to be clear that Amador is not suggesting any kind of subterfuge or underhanded ways of getting your family member to see things your way. Instead, he proposes a model for conversation he calls LEAP: Listen, Empathize, Agree (even if this means agreeing to disagree), and Partner.

Support is important for people who have experienced psychosis and for those around them. I hope you find the help you need.