An innovative and unique information programme to support people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and their families is to be delivered nationally from 2015, funded by the HSE and integrated into mental health service provision in many HSE areas. News of the expanded rollout of the EOLAS information programme was delivered at an event in the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin.
The significant successes to date of the innovative project were presented to Kathleen Lynch TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Disability, Older People, Equality and Mental Health following an evaluation completed by academics from Trinity’s School of Nursing and Midwifery and School of Psychology.
EOLAS offers two eight week peer and clinician led mental health information programmes on information, learning and recovery from the experience of mental health difficulties. One programme is for people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and a second is designed for their family members and significant others.
According to the Eolas evaluation, 84% of participants with a mental health diagnosis reported improved wellbeing with significant impact on other psychosocial outcomes. Participants’ knowledge about their mental health, their confidence in dealing with their mental distress, their hope and attitudes towards their own recovery and their ability to advocate on their own behalf were all improved following completion of the EOLAS programme.
For family members, the project was equally successful with a reported increase in knowledge about their family member’s mental distress, increased hope for the future, and increased confidence in supporting their family member and accessing mental health services. Both groups reported high levels of satisfaction with and endorsement of the programme, with 98% stating they would recommend it to others.
A family member who took part in the programme described the impact it had on them saying: “EOLAS was a God-send because I was so much in the dark… I was like a zombie walking the streets. No direction to go, no plan, no understanding. After attending that course, I had a plan. I had an understanding.”
Professor Agnes Higgins, Professor in Mental Health at the School of Nursing & Midwifery, Trinity and Lead investigator on the evaluation of the Eolas Project said: “The success of EOLAS is largely influenced by the fact that the programme has been co-designed and co-delivered by mental health service users - people with a diagnosis - and families in combination with clinical practitioners. This is in contrast to traditional mental health information programmes in Ireland and internationally which have been practitioner led. In addition to enhancing participants’ knowledge, confidence and advocacy skills, the programme provided a platform for peers, clinicians and participants to engage with one another as equals and serves to redress some of the traditional power imbalance and information deficits within mental health services”.
Dr Pat Gibbons, Consultant Psychiatrist in Kildare West Wicklow Mental Health Services and chairperson of the Eolas Project steering committee said: “EOLAS is a unique programme in the way in which it forms a bridge between the traditional clinical model of understanding mental health, (based on scientific research and knowledge) and the Recovery model, which focuses to a much greater extent on learning from the lived experience of people with mental health difficulties and of the people close to them. EOLAS succeeds in harnessing the strength and energies of both approaches, and provides a structure within which there can be open communication and collaboration between service users, families and clinicians”
Quotes from participants in the Eolas Programme, including both people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and family members:
“My experience was positive, positive, positive, positive...I feel privileged to have been on it, I honestly do. It was so helpful.”
“It was great to be able to share and then to learn from other people…everybody’s experience is different…what was interesting is our experience of our diagnosis was almost identical, but the way in which we ended up in hospital was very different...you are basically learning from each other…”
“I don’t know that anyone can understand fully what it’s like unless you’ve been there …that’s why I found it really important that a service user [facilitator] was there because you could identify with her a bit more…You’ve seen this person in front of you who looked normal…and looked well…this does make you feel that it is achievable…You can go back to a bad place…you can get yourself out of it again.”
Eolas was developed and delivered in collaboration with users of the mental health services, their families, Kildare Youth Service, Voluntary Mental Health Support Agencies, SHINE, Irish Advocacy Network and Trinity College. The project was originally funded through Genio and is now fully funded by the HSE.
A mixed evaluation of the project was carried out with over 100 Eolas participants. People with a mental health diagnosis and their family members took part in surveys and interviews.
The pilot programme originally ran in Kildare, West Wicklow and some Dublin Mental Health Services but will be now rolled out nationally. More details on Eolas are available at http://www.eolasproject.ie