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BROOKFIELD New mental health support group

November 22, 2018

BROOKFIELD — When Jenny Collins’ daughter was struggling with bipolar disorder in her early teens, Collins wished she could talk to other parents about their children’s battle with mental health.

“I felt really alone and I felt embarrassed,” said Collins, of Brookfield

But now, Collins and other local mothers have started a support group for parents of children with mental health issues. The group meets at the Brookfield Senior Center either on the Monday or Wednesday of the first week of the month.

The idea for the group formed last year after Brookfield Cares hosted a screening of a film about a mother’s struggles with her son’s mental health disorder. After the movie, many parents had asked questions about their children’s issues.

“They wanted another avenue to air their concerns,” said Debbie Berman, of Brookfield, who facilitates the group with Collins.

The movie featured the family of Randi Silverman, who co-founded the Youth Mental Health Project, an organization that aims to educate parents and others about how to help children with mental health issues.

The organization launched a parent support group in Westchester County 10 years ago and has spread them around the area, most recently in Brookfield.

Berman said it is normally difficult for parents to share what they are going through.

“Sometimes it’s very private,” she said. “Parents are afraid to say their child has a problem because it reflects on them. This is a great resource for them to feel like they’re not alone.”

Berman and her husband have striven to raise awareness for mental health issues since their daughter, Alexa, died by suicide at 14.

One of the goals of the group is to change the way people talk about mental health.

“It’s really about erasing the stigma,” Collins said.

The group is open to parents from any town. About seven parents attended the October meeting, while four attended the November meeting, but 11 to 12 parents have said they are interested, facilitators said. Parents should RSVP to the Dec. 5 meeting at brookfieldpsn@ymhproject.org.

The session works well for small and large groups, facilitators said. If many parents come, the group can split into parents of younger children and parents of older children.

A $2,000 grant from the Brookfield Education Foundation and an $8,000 grant the Youth Mental Health Project secured helps pay for brochures and other resources the group provides for parents.

The facilitators have been trained and lead the discussion.

At the beginning of the session, the parents are given “Kimochi” pillows, which have different facial expressions on them. The pillows are meant to spark a conversation about how the parents are feeling.

“That leads us into the parents talking about their particular story, their particular experience and something they might be struggling with or something that is working,” said Brenda Friedman, of Bethel, one of the facilitators.

Parents can talk if they wish or simply listen, she said. The group is confidential.

“It’s all about what you need as a parent,” Friedman said. “Sometimes it’s all about just being in a safe, non-judgmental place to share.”

She said this can be hard to find. Friedman’s daughter, 23, has asperger’s and anxiety, while her son, 21, has bipolar disorder and had suicidal thoughts as a teen.

“It was quite overwhelming and it was very difficult for my friends to really understand what it meant to have a child who was suicidal,” she said.

She has been going to the support group for nine years and called it her “safe place.”

Friedman said the goal of the group is to make parents realize they are not alone.

“It’s cliche,” she said. “But in that room you really feel it and it really is comforting and healing and rejuvenating.”

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