Bundesverband der Angehörigen psychisch erkrankter Menschen e.V.

The "centrepiece" – the self-help groups

Self-help is by definition indivisibly linked to self-determination and personal responsibility. With reference to us as the families of the mentally ill, this means:

  • We want to overcome the state of helplessness and abandonment into which the illness of a family member often pitches us.
  • We want to live with our ill family members in self-determination and solidarity.
  • We want the rights of all concerned to be safeguarded.

We are able to contribute a lot to this ourselves. For example, by acquiring information and adapting our behaviour and our responses to the situation. By intervening when we see that the person who has fallen ill is not able to help themselves.

But these tasks often overtax our powers, and we miss understanding and a place where we can talk openly about our worries and difficulties, but also anger and frustration. This place may be a family group as they exist in many places. Sometimes it may be an open group where everyone can come and go as they wish; on other occasions a closed group which only accepts new members on request. The tapestry of self-help groups is a colourful one. And this is the way it should be.

One thing which the groups have in common: their members recognise in the course of time that they are not alone with their problems. It provides comfort but it also challenges us to think further. Because the difficulties are not always "only" of a personal nature. The help and information offered through discussions in the group are not always sufficient.

Frequently it is problems with the system of help itself that brings families to the point of despair.

  • Here there is a lack of help in the crisis,
  • there they have problems with the health insurance companies or other insurers,
  • here nobody in the hospital wants to talk to the family,
  • there they are assigned a role in planning the patient's future without being asked and then confronted with the bill,
  • the list of impositions can be a long one.

Many committed family members have performed sterling service in the last few decades as the voice of families with mentally ill members. This is largely done on a volunteer basis and often in addition to considerable personal burdens.

If you would like to know more about self-help groups,

  • how they were created
  • what the idea behind them is
  • how they are run
  • for whom family member groups are suitable
  • what the risks are
  • what they cost

we recommend the remarks of Susanne Heim