“NIMH awarded MHASP a three-year, $1 million grant to implement and evaluate the effectiveness of hiring mental health consumers as case managers compared to the effectiveness of hiring non-consumers to perform identical services.”

“NIMH awarded MHASP a contract to organize Alternatives ’90, the annual national conference organized by and for mental health consumers.”

“Homeward Bound, a consumer self-directed housing program, accepted its first residents…(Homeward Bound) offers individuals who are homeless and mentally ill a place to live and receive counseling and referral services.”

There was the time her husband directed rush-hour traffic on City Avenue; the time he was convinced he was a narcotics agent, capable of making a notorious corner drug-free, and the time he drove his car into oncoming traffic, hitting a police car.

Through these episodes, various hospitalizations and the day-to-day stress of living with a mentally ill spouse, she works as an administrative assistant at a Center City courier agency, raises their two daughters, 12 and 14, and does not think of ending her marriage.

"With me," she said, "I had eight years of a good marriage. I know what my husband was. It's kind of like 'in sickness and in health.' "

At times, her manic-depressive husband is a "wonderful, wonderful father" to the girls; other times, when he's in the midst of a psychotic episode, she has separated from him.

After years of groping her way through the maze of the mental health system, she found support in the Training and Education Center (TEC) Network, a nonprofit organization offering education, coping skills and ombudsman service to families of the mentally ill. (The network operates under the auspices of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania.)

And now she is peer consultant for the newly formed TEC Network Spouse Workshop, joining with a psychologist to help teach others how it is possible to live with a mentally ill spouse.

Marilyn Meisel, TEC Network director and co-founder, said that while all

families have difficulty coping when one of the members is mentally ill, working parents have an added burden. "They are sometimes pressured to quit their job to take care of the ill relative," she said. "That's probably the worst thing they could do. One of the coping mechanisms we teach is to maintain a life of your own."

Said Edie Mannion, who is another co-founder of TEC and also a family therapist, "It's left on the well spouses to be the breadwinners of the family, on top of having to deal with an ill partner, having to deal with working and all the while raising children."

Mannion offers these tips for keeping children on track when one parent is mentally ill:

* Acknowledge to the children that, because of the illness, things are abnormal. If children think that the situation is the norm, they may become angry when they realize that not every home is like theirs.

* Explain to them that they're not bad children, that they did not cause their parent's illness and that the parent still loves them.

* Set limits. Don't let yourself or a child be a victim of any physical, sexual or psychological abuse resulting from the spouse's illness. Separate until the episode is over.

* Communicate with the children. Find out what they feel.

"A lot of times, children have to carry some of the burden of keeping the household together," Mannion said. "And that's not the worst thing either. They can understand that and they can grow from it if that's acknowledged."

In the workshops, spouses try to imagine what it's like for their ill partners. "They wouldn't do this if they could help it," Mannion said. ''The spouse didn't expect this, doesn't want it and can't control it."

It took a while for Meisel to learn acceptance 17 years ago when she was told that her son was schizophrenic.

"In the early years, there just wasn't anything around to help the family to cope," she said.

Meisel, also a founding member of the national Alliance for the Mentally Ill, educated herself and others. In 1982, she began a survival-skills workshop for families of the mentally ill that eventually grew into the TEC Network, which now is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Philadelphia Office of Mental Health / Mental Retardation.


TEC Network services are free for Philadelphia residents and family members of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Others may participate for a modest fee. For more information, call 215-751-1800.

Do you have a topic or problem you'd like to see discussed in this column? Send your suggestions to Working Parents, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101.

By Shelly Phillips, Special to The Inquirer, POSTED: March 05, 1989, http://articles.philly.com/1989-03-05/news/26127526_1_mental-health-system-family-therapist-psychotic-episode