Charity Spotlight is a new monthly column featuring a local nonprofit organization selected by David and Sheryl Machlowitz of Westfield. Each of the nonprofits, which benefit Westfield residents in some way, receive a $500 donation from the couple. The Machlowitz family hopes that this will encourage those in need to seek help from the charities and others to donate to them.

The first recipient is the Intensive Family Support Service (IFSS) of the Mental Health Association of New Jersey (MHANJ).

“My wife and I have been attending IFSS support groups for several years. As a result, we have been able to achieve a quality of life that we would not have reached on our own. We have learned about mental illness and how to address issues that confront us. I highly recommend this service to anyone who has a family member with mental illness.” – A Family Member Helped by IFSS

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People who have a family member, age 18 years or older with a mental health or co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorder may face a variety of challenges. Issues such as how to help a loved one get the treatment he/she needs, finding people who understand and planning for the future can be overwhelming. The Mental Health Association in New Jersey’s (MHANJ’s) Intensive Family Support Services (IFSS) can help.

The mission of the program is to provide support, education and advocacy for families of adults who have behavioral health problems.

How It Works

“Our IFSS staff members take the time to learn about each family’s situation and assist them in their roles as caregiver,” said Carolyn Beauchamp, President and CEO of the Mental Health Association in New Jersey.

According to Joyce Benz, Director of the IFSS Program, “Understanding a family member’s mental illness is an important first step in helping the family cope with the situation. We start by educating families about symptoms, treatment and medication options that can help to meet the family’s unique needs.”

Meetings with individual family members may be held at the MHANJ’s statewide headquarters in Springfield or in the family’s home. The next step is for IFSS staff to offer information, referrals and guidance to families who need assistance navigating the mental health system. Staff members advocate for the individual and their relative, linking them to other agencies and mental health professionals to help them gain access to community resources and entitlements such as housing options and legal and financial services. They also help prepare family members to serve as advocates for themselves and their relative.

The Mental Health Association in New Jersey also provides opportunities for families to become involved in mental health pubic advocacy with local and state government.

Support Groups and Educational Workshops

IFSS provides ongoing professionally run support groups for families of people with mental health issues. These groups help spouses, parents, siblings and others involved to realize that they are not alone. They offer opportunities to share and problem solve with other families who are coping with similar situations. Educational workshops are scheduled throughout the year covering a broad range of topics such as diagnosis, medication, treatment options, coping strategies, relapse prevention, crisis intervention, trust and estate planning, work and housing options, Social Security and stress management for caregivers.