A Multi-Week Education and Support Course
for Families and Friends of People with Serious Mental Illness

Program Overview

Friends and family of a person living with a severe and persistent mental illness live with that illness too. Created by the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, Strengthening Families Together provides the knowledge, support and tools necessary for families to manage mental illnesses together. Participating families learn the facts about psychosis, schizophrenia, mood disorders and other serious mental illnesses. They gain information about treatments and side-effects; the mental health system in BC, including how it works and who is involved; mental illness and how it relates to addiction and the criminal justice system. They also learn valuable strategies about how to help their loved ones and find support for themselves in their role as a caregiver.

Strengthening Families Together helps participants build the skills to live with serious mental illness day to day. Sessions cover communication tactics, stress management tools, self-care planning, crisis planning, and advocacy. Through discussion and group exercises, families build supportive connections with others who share similar experiences. Through the program, participants also develop support groups within their communities. The 10-session program is available free of charge to participants.

Find a Strengthening Communities Together program near you.

Strengthening Families Together – First Nations

Strengthening Families Together – First Nations is based on the core Strengthening Families Together program, adapted to honor and include First Nations culture and traditions. It was developed by the BC Schizophrenia Society in partnership with leaders from the Stó:lō Nation.

The program is facilitated by a trained community member and incorporates traditional cultural practices, creating a culturally safe environment. Participating families support each other by sharing their experiences and learn skills to be effective personal advocates for their loved ones.

Strengthening Families Together – First Nations is available to First Nations communities across British Columbia and is free of charge to participants and facilitators.

Find a Strengthening Communities Together – First Nations program near you.

Strengthening Families Together: 10-Session Group For Family and Friends

Do you have a relative or friend with a serious mental illness? Strengthening Families Together is a free 10-session group for families and friends, which provides information, skill-building, and support.

(For more information on the Strengthening Families Together-First Nations program, the same course offered through a cultural indigenous lens, please see the section below).


  • The different types of mental illness
  • The medications and treatments for mental illness
  • How to cope with and support your loved one living with a mental illness

This program is now available, replacing the “Family to Family” program.

About the Program

  • Finding a program
  • Course Outline
  • Program Materials
  • Funding – The course is offered at no cost to participants and is taught by a trained facilitator

How do I sign up? Where and when is the nearest course?

Be sure you check with your local regional educator for a complete list of courses and groups in your area.

Most regions offer this course in spring and fall and take names for waiting lists in between. If you don’t see a course coming up, be sure to call your local BCSS Regional Educator or local BCSS Branch and get on the list to be contacted when one is scheduled. If we don’t hear from you, we won’t know there is enough interest to hold a course, so it’s helpful to put your name on the list.


Strengthening Families Together grew out of the strong belief that Canadian families have a right to reliable educational information on serious mental illnesses, regardless of where they reside.

This 10-session national education program for family members and friends of individuals with serious and persistent mental illnesses aims to increase accessibility to Canadian-based information on the topics associated with living daily with a mental illness.

Strengthening Families Together is about more than education: it is about strengthening family members and friends of individuals with a serious mental illness by providing support, awareness, and tools.


Families have an opportunity to discuss the daily challenges they face and learn how to connect with others through membership in their local provincial society and chapter/branch.


Families get reliable and consistent information about mental illness, treatment options, causes, research, and available mental health services, in the hopes of diminishing the stigma attached to the diagnosis.


Families are equipped with problem-solving, coping, and advocacy and communication skills, and the know-how to develop their own local support group.


Strengthening Families Together Courses are often funded by donors, Health Authorities and the Ministry of Health in the areas where they are delivered and are provided free of charge to participants.

The Program Outline

Session 1 – What Is Mental Illness?

  • Introduction to the program, facilitators, and other participants
  • Facts about mental illness
  • Facts about psychosis
  • Understanding the role of biopsychosocial factors
  • Stigma and myths that surround mental illness
  • Where to get help and support

Session 2 – Schizophrenia

  • Facts about schizophrenia
  • Symptoms of schizophrenia
  • Phases of schizophrenia
  • Treating schizophrenia
  • Activity: Voices
  • Discussion: One Word

Session 3 – Mood & Anxiety Disorder

  • Facts about clinical depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Treatment specifics of mood and anxiety disorders
  • Organizations that offer help and support
  • Activity: Let’s Review
  • 5 steps to help a family member

Session 4 – Coping as a Family: Part 1

  • Challenges and needs of family members (with discussion)
  • Loss and grief (with discussion)
  • Caregiving and Caregiver Bill of Rights
  • Caregiver burnout and stress in the caregiving family
  • Activity: Tense-o-meter Relaxation Exercise

Session 5 – Coping as a Family: Part 2

  • Self-care planning
  • Support systems and respite
  • Effective communication
  • Activity: Practicing “I” Messages
  • Talking about mental illness
  • “IDEAL” problem-solving skills
  • Activity: Practicing Problem Solving

Session 6 – Treating Mental Illness

  • The facts about the brain
  • The causes of mental illness
  • Treating mental illness
  • Medications and their side effects
  • Psychosocial Treatments
  • Recovery

Session 7 – Understanding the Mental Health System

  • The evolution of the mental health system in Canada
  • Basic needs of a person with mental illness
  • Mental health services
  • Activity: Ulysses Agreement
  • Who’s who in mental health and building relationships with health care professionals

Session 8 – Mental Illness, Addictions, & Criminal Justice

  • Facts about concurrent disorder and addictions
  • Impact of drugs and alcohol on the body
  • Impact of concurrent disorders on the family
  • Warning signs of concurrent disorder
  • Activity: Let’s Review
  • Mental illness and the criminal justice system
  • Discussion: You be the judge
  • Mapping the criminal justice system

Session 9 – Living With Mental Illness

  • Daily living tips
  • Goals and expectations
  • Relapse prevention and crisis planning
  • Activity: Creating a Crisis Plan
  • Facts about suicide (with discussion)

Session 10 – Striving For Change: Advocacy

  • How families can advocate for systems change
  • The AdvoKit: the steps involved in advocacy
  • Activity: Steps to Effective Advocacy
  • Evaluation and certificate of completion
  • End of group celebration

Strengthening Families Together - First Nations

Welcome to the BCSS Strengthening Families Together-First Nations program. This program was developed by BC Schizophrenia Society in partnership with leaders from the Stó:lō Nation.

Strengthening Families Together-First Nations is about more than education; it is about strengthening family members and friends of individuals with a serious mental illness by providing support, awareness, and tools in a culturally safe environment. It’s about sharing our family stories, walking the journey together and moving forward with renewed strength, hope and understanding.

Support: Families have an opportunity to share the daily challenges they face; they can learn how to connect with others and gain a sense of belonging within the group; they learn from each other that they are not alone on this journey.

Awareness: Families gain access to reliable and consistent information about mental illness and mental health services; they also develop an understanding of recovery and of the impact of stigma.

Tools: Families are equipped with problem-solving, coping, advocacy, and communication skills.

Cultural Safety: Facilitators are trained family members from the community with lived experience. The program is adaptable for traditional cultural practices to be included and honored. Elders are encouraged to participate at any capacity depending upon the community.

The family can play a significant role in promoting the recovery of their family member. But, in order to do so, the family too requires education, support, and inclusion in the therapeutic process.

This program is an education and advocacy program that helps family and/or friends become a personal advocate for their loved one. Learning to be a personal advocate is key to navigating the mental health system, ensuring access to programs, services, and supports.

This program was revised by BC Schizophrenia Society (BCSS) and is offered to First Nations and aboriginal people across the province. The course is offered at no cost to facilitators or participants.

All BCSS programs are supported by individual donations, corporate, foundation, government grants, and sponsorships.


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