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People who “Get” it, Silver Linings & Twizzlers

PPAL Conference
Posted on: July 11, 2018
Posted by: Anonymous

You’ll often hear there’s always a silver lining and sometimes I think that’s just a bunch of hooey. I am a mom of two transition-aged daughters that live with mental health conditions. There has been trauma in our lives and the drama, continued trauma and upset is often chronic and feels like it may never end. I’m always waiting for the “other shoe to drop”. Can anyone relate?

But on Friday May 31, 2019, I went to the 8th Annual Conference and Celebration put on by Parent/Professional Advocacy League (PPAL) and I got to see the silver lining around my perceived cloud. PPAL is the leading public voice for families whose children have emotional, behavioral and mental health needs in Massachusetts. What I saw at their conference was so many other people like me who understand what I’m going through and who are putting their hearts and souls and REALLY hard work into advocacy and support, working to help my daughters and working to help me. It gave me hope, inspiration and determination and that’s definitely a silver lining.

The theme of this year’s conference was “It Starts with Us” and many of the presentations were about how we, as parents and professionals, can do the work to make a positive difference in our children’s futures.

Probably the highlight of the conference for me was Barbara Huff, the keynote speaker. Barbara is a key founder of the national family movement, and the first Executive Director of the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health. She’s an advocate with a capital A! Barbara gave an overview of the whole history (spanning decades) of the national movement of supporting families of people living with mental health conditions. It was enlightening to hear the progress and successes we’ve seen and I’m realizing how tirelessly some people have worked in the role of advocates.

After the keynote, my first workshop of the day was called “Understanding the Impact of Trauma on Our Children and Ourselves”, presented by Tara Sagor, CAGS, LMHC. Tara Sagor is the Director of Training and Trauma Response for Justice Resource Institute based in Needham, MA. While I have some familiarity with this topic, Tara presented ideas and analogies that just makes talking about this stuff more understandable. It was great to get a review of the human stress response continuum and our physical and emotional reactions to stress and how they affect us. I will use her language as I talk about trauma to family and friends. Tara ended by giving us a handout to fill out which encouraged an individual self-care plan across 4 domains – physical, cognitive, emotional and social. We answered the questions of how we are already taking care of ourselves across these domains and things we’d like to be doing to protect ourselves against burnout. Finally, we each committed to doing one thing that week to improve our self-care practices. I got in my 3 kayak paddles this past week that I committed to and I’m hoping my table mate was successful in staying off Facebook for a week!

During lunch, Joan Mikula, our state Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health talked about the work being done currently in MA around youth mental health. It was great to hear about what’s going on and she gave a shout out to our Director at iSPARC, Maryann Davis for being a leader in the field of youth and young adult mental health research, treatment and services.

After lunch, I joined my second workshop of the day, which was called “Parent Intel”: What it is and How to Use it in Parenting and in Collaboration with your Child’s Clinicians. The presenter, Deborah Vlock, recently wrote a book called Parenting Children with Mental Health Challenges A Guide to Life with Emotionally Complex Kids. I was sitting in the back of the room and I saw many heads nodding in agreement across almost everything she said. I was in a room of people who got it and it was reassuring to see. Besides sharing stories, Deborah taught us tips and ideas on how to share our wisdom of our kids “stuff” with clinicians in a way that can improve clinical outcomes. As always, communications among the key players is key.

Between presentations I walked around and visited the tables set up by area organizations.  The first thing to note? There’s a LOT of candy up for grabs, (including lots and lots of Twizzlers) along with some pretty fun little trinkets being given away. I vote Wayside Youth & Family Support Network as the winner of the table top giveaways. They had a table full including candy, stress putty, and a really fun (and useful) star-shaped multi-colored highlighter. I’m already using that one! :D All of the organizations in attendance had one thing in common – a focus on supporting and improving the lives of families with a loved one living with mental health conditions or disabilities. It was great to be able to talk to each organization and hear about their resources.

I also got to spend some time with our Transitions ACR Parent Advisory Board member who also attended the conference. It was great to see how many peoples she already knew in this community.

Would I go back to PPAL’s conference next year? YES!

Did I learn new information that can help me navigate my cloud? YES

Is there a silver lining? Absolutely. There are many, many of us advocating and caring for our children and families and working for improved outcomes and happier lives. Meeting everyone and building relationships and community with these amazing people IS a silver lining.

About Us

Transitions ACR is part of UMass School of Medicine Psychiatry Dept. Our mission is to promote the full participation in socially valued roles of transition-age youth and young adults (ages 14-30) with serious mental health conditions. We use the tools of research and knowledge translation in partnership with this at risk population to achieve this mission. Visit us at https://www.umassmed.edu/TransitionsACR/

The Parent/Professional Advocacy League (PPAL) is a statewide family organization dedicated to improving the mental health and well-being of children, youth and families through education advocacy and partnership. Visit them at http://ppal.net/.