A Toronto husband and wife who lost their daughter to suicide have founded an organization aimed at helping families cope with mental illness — a group that’s so successful that institutions like the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) are referring clients to it.
The Sashbear Foundation was created by Lynn Courey and Mike Menu in honour of Sasha Menu Courey, who died in 2011 at the age of 20. Courey says the program focuses on helping families and parents, not just the individual living with the mental health issue.
Menu Courey’s death made headlines when it came to light that she had been sexually assaulted on campus at the University of Missouri where she was attending school.
“One of the missions of the Sashbear foundation is to disseminate skills for family members in need of skills and hope, to help them navigate the system, to help them have skills to become more effective for themselves and their loved ones.”
In 2012 they discovered a program in the U.S., called Family Connections, which is a 12-week skills course for parents, taught by parents who’ve lived with children struggling with mental health issues. Courey and Menu brought the program to Toronto in 2014 and began offering the course to families for free.
The power of family
Karen Black, director of The Sashbear Foundation, says this program is filling a big gap as conventional treatments don’t typically include the family.
“The family can play a powerful role in prevention, treatment and recovery,” Black said..”The Family Connections program provides life saving skills to the families.”
The only criterion to participate, she says, is to have a loved one who is struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder, also referred to as emotion dysregulation — the same condition Menu-Courey was diagnosed with before her suicide.
Black says The Sashbear Foundation is now being sought after for presentations on the importance of including families.
Agencies such as CAMH, Sunnybrook Family Navigation Program, Hincks Dellcrest, Mount Sinai, SickKids, University Health Network, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and private clinicians are referring families to Sashbear.
The organization just completed a Family Connections program in Vancouver for the Fraser Health Authority and will be offering the first French language program this year in Quebec.
Courey says 2016 was a big year for them, but in 2017 they plan to make even bigger strides.
“In 2016, we were so excited to see that Sashbear delivered over 30 groups and helped over 500 families. And this year we’re going even further. Now we’re…