17 May 2016 16:49

Relatives and close friends of people with psychosis or bipolar disorder are being invited to take part in a new initiative to help support them online.

The REACT (Relative Education and Coping Toolkit) online trial is run by researchers, clinicians and relatives from Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, Lancaster University, Liverpool University and University College London and is funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

The online toolkit contains information, strategies to manage common problems and stories from other relatives about their experiences.  Through the site you can also contact a REACT Supporter who is a trained relative who can provide additional support.

There is also an online forum (REACT Group) where you can talk directly with other relatives using the site.

Lizzi Collinge who works for REACT - based at the Faculty of Health and Medicine’s Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research - has personal experience of trying to support a friend with mental illness.

As part of the depression, her friend had symptoms of psychosis and became suicidal.

Lizzi said:  “When my friend was ill, it was a really scary time for me and his family. He became unwell soon after a close family member died but this wasn’t the only factor in his illness. He wasn’t thinking straight, was acting oddly and behaving totally out of character.

“He was so unhappy that he didn’t want to live. I had phone conversations with him that ended with me thinking he had seriously hurt himself. He went missing on numerous occasions. The impact on his family, including his children, was huge.”

Lizzi spent time visiting him and his family, trying to support them as much as possible and help them get the care he so desperately needed. After professional treatment and support from family and friends, he has now recovered and recently graduated from university.

She said life would have been easier if Lancaster University’s REACT online toolkit had been available for her as it aims to reduce distress and increase wellbeing in relatives and close friends.

“Something like the REACT toolkit would have made a huge difference in the level of information we had about his illness and our ability to cope.   Over-stretched and under-funded mental health services are struggling to provide the help people need. I hope that by contributing to the REACT trial, I can help put in place better support for family and friends in future. “

Professor Fiona Lobban from the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research said: “We are aiming to recruit relatives across the UK to take part in this trial so we can test whether this kind of online support can be helpful to relatives. If it is, then we can ensure this kind of easily accessible, high quality resource can be made available to all relatives. It doesn’t rely on face to face contact with services, which can be difficult to access for many relatives.”