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Resources for Parents

Welcome to the parent resource page for the empowHER Leadership Retreat. Below you will find the background and personal story of a few members of our team. Their individual stories explain why they are passionate about empowHER, and are hoping that the lessons learned from their journey will make a difference in someone’s life. We have compiled resources with a fantastic group of advisors, which we hope will assist you in some manner to navigate challenging situations with your child.   We hope you find this information beneficial!

Amy’s Story

On May 5, 2015, our family’s lives changed forever. Our third youngest daughter April called me in a breathless voice to tell me she didn’t think she was going to make it and that she loved me very, very much. As soon as my daughter acted upon her decision to take her own life, she immediately regretted it. After calling me, the line went dead because she made the decision to call 911. This call was the last call she would ever make. My daughter wanted help, she wanted to live! My daughter did not survive. 

April was too young to understand her choices. She did not have the resources on her own to understand, nor did our family have the emotional, medical or legal resources to treat her depression. She tried desperately to hide her depression from everyone, including her own family. My daughter’s future was so bright and beautiful, but tragically gone in an instant.

The empowHER movement has already changed the lives of many young women, and it will change thousands more in the future. I ask myself often, ‘if my daughter had the opportunity to attend something as powerful and uplifting as empowHER for emotional support, would things have been different?’ I believe with all my heart the answer is yes! I’ve seen these young women transform before my eyes.    

We need to continue helping our youth be strong, resilient, confident young adults who are not afraid to ask for help, if needed, and to educate them to support their peers in their own struggles. We need to support the caregivers of these young adults who may be struggling. We must provide the resources necessary for the caregivers to make well-educated decisions in helping their children. 

For these reasons and more, I believe with all my heart that empowHER will change society and thousands of young lives — and that is the purpose of revealing our family’s story about our beautiful daughter. April’s story is not over, her struggles with mental illness will turn tragedy into triumph because “It’s ok not to be ok……as long as you reach out and ask for help!”

Read Amy's Story

Janelle’s Story

My empowHER story begin on a snowy Sunday morning in January of 2016. I was distraught after reading my daughter’s diary a few weeks prior and learning she had survived multiple horrific traumas.  I went into church early to beg for understanding and meaning for what I was facing.  Suzy Merchant was a guest speaker in our forum class that day. She spoke about April Bocian and how heartbroken she was by the loss of her. Then she spoke about a vision she had for empowering the young girls in our community.  Shortly after, through a series of serendipitous events, I had the opportunity to serve on the empowHER board. It has been a blessing in my life ever since.

 

My daughter’s healing journey has been hard, unpredictable and on the extreme end of the parenting experience. I have worked with more mental health resources than I knew existed five years ago.  “Hard” doesn’t truly do the experience justice. Five years in, and we are still on our healing journey, which I now understand will last the remainder of both of our lifetimes. I am in awe of my daughter’s strength and am intent on honoring that through helping other families.

 

It is my hope that our caregiver community can learn from our journeys. The natural evolution of this experience is giving all I can to help whoever is reading this page. Together, with Amy and our amazing group of advisors, we’ve compiled a list of “things we wish we knew when.” These are links to sites we found helpful:

Read Janelle's Story

Advice from the moms

Lessons Learned

Finding a good therapist who connects with your child takes patience and a strong will. Expect it to be hard.

  • Here is an article recommended from our advisors on how to find a good therapist.
  • Another article on finding a therapist: How to find a therapist who is right for you – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
    • Notes from our advisors: I like this article a lot because it reflects the way I try to educate my clients about finding a provider. Sometimes people can get hung up in trying to figure out what kind of therapist they should see, and that can be important.  But, all therapeutic modalities demonstrate the same levels of effectiveness over time; so the more important factor (assuming that you are working from a list of competent, trained, licensed providers) is your child’s own comfort with that person.  Does your child feel comfortable talking with them?  Do they perceive the therapist as someone they can trust?  If your child doesn’t feel good about talking, they likely won’t get much out of it.  This article does a nice job with that, and also with encouraging people to reflect on what it is that they want to get out of therapy.  And, it gives links to therapists of color and other marginalized communities, as many marginalized folks have had negative experience with white/cis gender/straight therapists over the years.  This was also written in December 2020, so it takes the current complications of finding a provider during the pandemic into account.
  • If your child is experiencing suicidal ideation, look for a therapist who has experience working with people who have had suicidal thoughts.
    • Notes from our advisors: There are a fairly large number of providers who have never worked with people who are having suicidal thoughts, and they sometimes panic and over- or under- treat these folks. In addition to suicidal ideation, there are a number of treatment areas that really, really require expertise, and not a provider who is a generalist, including eating disorders, perinatal mood disorders, and substance abuse.
  • Here is the we site to vet a therapist’s license: https://www.michigan.gov/lara/0,4601,7-154-89334_72600_73835—,00.html
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of therapy for you and the rest of your family. It is a pillar of self-care. It may take awhile to find a therapist you connect with.  That is okay.

“Initially, it was presented to me that I didn’t have an option regarding where she went for treatment.  While that is true to some extent, I learned through persistence I was able to influence where she was sent.”

In each situation, the physiatrists utilized different and changed medications. I recommend taking many notes and asking several questions through this process. I also recommend pulling together a care conference with all treatment providers to discuss your child holistically as well as researching non-medication options that may work for your family. 

  • In the end, therapeutic lifestyle changes proved to be better for us. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/02/beyond-tlc
  • Bi-Tapps also really helped us with anxiety. Bilateral tapping (bi-tapp) is one of the easiest things you can do to help your nervous system calm down. With manual bilateral tapping, you place your left hand on your right shoulder and your right hand on your left shoulder. You then tap alternately, back and forth. You can also tap alternately on your thighs, or you can tap your feet back and forth.
    Bi-Tapp has created Bluetooth tappers to do the bilateral tapping for you, because manual tapping is not always convenient or an option. You can hold the tappers, wear them on your wrists or put them in your pockets or your socks. You choose the rate of speed and intensity that is calming to you. Use your tappers whenever needed.
      • Bi-Tapps are an EMDR based tool to assist with anxiety. https://bi-tapp.com/ 

Putting your child on a psychotropic medication that will impact their neurology is scary, but sometimes necessary. Certain individuals do benefit from medication. It is definitely worth time and energy to research.

Firecracker Foundation provides amazing support for child survivors in the Lansing Community.

When traditional inpatient and outpatient isn't "enough"

  • Start with a good Educational Consultant.
  • Other treatment options are available:
    • Wilderness
    • Therapeutic Boarding Schools
    • Residential treatment centers
  • The financial impact of treatment can be significant.
    • Understand that your insurance coverage can be very complicated and there are resources that can help
      you understand it.
    • Claims Denial Management — www.fixmyclaim.com will be able to
      analyze your policy and help you understand it.
    • Speak to a tax professional about a possible use of the Federal Medical Tax deduction.
    • Scholarships and financial assistance may be available. Your educational consultant will be able to
      advise you.

The legal side of things

Know the laws in your state and understand that each state is different. If you need to transport your child to another state for treatment, there are services that will help you with that.

Mental health policies and treatment options are governed by state and federal laws.  Know the laws in your state and understand that each state is different.

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that is responsible for advancing awareness of mental health issues and treatment access around the nation. SAMHSA offers a list of federal laws that pertain to mental health services here:  https://www.samhsa.gov/about-us/who-we-are/laws-regulations
  • The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) provides a list of laws in each state that regulate mental health services here: https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/mental-health-benefits-state-mandates.aspx
  • The Treatment Advocacy Center also provides a comparison of each state’s laws, which includes a grading system for the treatment options in that state: https://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/browse-by-state
  • Federal and state laws are constantly changing, so be sure to confirm that the law you’re reviewing is still in effect and that you’re reading the most current version. New federal and state laws, and updates to existing laws, are typically published on the website for each federal and state legislature first. If you aren’t sure how to find the applicable laws for your state, the Cornell Law Library maintains a list of links to each state’s databases here:  https://www.law.cornell.edu/states/listing
  • If you need to transport your child to another state for treatment, there are services that can help you with that. Be sure to ask your attorney, educational consultant, or other professionals who are familiar with your case to see which options exist.

From taking the initial step of applying for insurance coverage to getting tied up in a court dispute, any legal process can be frustratingly slow at times.  Patience is required to navigate through these challenges successfully.  Once you’ve done the research needed to gain more knowledge about the policies and processes that can affect your child’s case, listen to the advice that your legal professionals offer to you, and give yourself enough time to process that information.  Listening is one of the best ways to gain a solid understanding of a complicated system, and acquiring more information about each part of that system is an invaluable part of your journey.

Our loved ones who are dealing with mental health issues can feel alone or isolated and they might also feel like they need to deal with their challenges privately. While you continue to build a trusting relationship with them, it’s just as important for you to surround yourself with a team that you can trust yourself. 

  • If there are potential legal barriers involved in your child’s case, don’t be afraid to reach out to a lawyer or other professionals who can advocate for you from the very beginning. Knowing your legal rights early in the process will help you to take the correct steps along the way, which can give you the confidence to know that you and your child will reach your goals as soon as possible.
  • Family law and mental health law are unique area of legal practice, especially when children are involved. At times, your goals might even be different from those of your child or other family members/third parties, so it’s important to work with an experienced attorney who knows and understands your desired outcomes.  If you need help finding counsel, most local bar associations can provide you with a list of attorneys who handle cases involving mental health law and/or family law issues.
  • Before hiring a lawyer or any other professional to help with your case, be sure to ask them about their past experience with cases that are similar to yours, and don’t be afraid to interview as many as it takes until you find a relationship that feels comfortable.
  • The professionals who are working on your case will be in the best position to provide help if they know all of the details, as difficult as it may be to share that information. A good advocate understands this and should always treat every situation with the utmost confidentiality and respect.  Don’t hesitate to share your full story and let them focus on the information that is most important in finding the best ways to help.
  • Whenever the process starts to feel overwhelming, just remember that the people on your team should always share a common goal – to get your child the support that she deserves! Keep an open line of communication and engage in honest conversations with the people that you’re working with because they should always have your interests in mind.

Anything that is unfamiliar to us tends to feel confusing and intimidating initially, and that’s completely okay.  While a case involving your child’s mental health may be your first experience with the legal system, the professionals are there to help explain the process and ease any concerns that arise along the way.  You should know what to expect and ask any questions that need to be answered so that you can make the best decisions possible for you and your child.  You might even want to keep a small notebook or use a note app on your phone to write down any questions as they come to your mind – that way you can review them with your legal team during your next phone call or meeting.

Some of the mental health laws and policies in your area may be outdated or poorly equipped to handle the needs of modern families. If you have concerns about this, or even if you just want to gain a better understanding of how a law or policy impacts you and your child, your local, state, and federal representatives may be able to offer some assistance or guide you to other available resources. 

  • If you need the contact information for officials in your area, start by looking here: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials
  • Any elected official should be aware of the problems that their constituents are facing, but with mental health issues in particular, people are often reluctant to speak out. If you encounter a problem in getting mental health treatment for your child, chances are that other families have faced that problem too… but those who have the power to make changes might not even know that the problem exists! Contacting your representatives to ensure that your story is heard can help you and your child, along with benefitting many others who are in similar situations, so even a quick phone call or email to your representative’s office is worthwhile.
  • During an election cycle, it’s important to ask candidates about their stance on mental health issues, and to campaign and vote for candidates who recognize that mental health laws should be reviewed regularly to determine whether changes are appropriate. When it’s time to vote, be sure to seek out candidates whose views align with yours and place an importance on making sure that mental health legislation is a priority.  The effects of mental health laws are far-reaching and their impact on future generations starts now!

Thank you to our trusted advisors who provided oversight and guidance as we pulled the above list of resources together.

Jonathon Novello, LMSW, ACSW

Counselor and Lead Clinician at the Employee Assistance Program at MSU

Jonathon's Bio

Connie Wood

Founder, Therapeutic Educational Consultant, A Circle of Hope

Connie's Bio

Robin L. Frank

Esquire, Thomson, Rhodes & Cowie, P.C.

Robin Frank, JD, is a lawyer in Pittsburgh, PA who concentrates her practice in several different areas, with a primary focus on family law, mental health, and other related matters. Robin’s initial interest in these areas developed as she was pursuing her Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Pittsburgh with a dual major in Psychology and Sociology.  During her time as an undergraduate, she worked on several nationally funded research projects that studied relationships between parents and children with depression, bipolar disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.  Today, Robin represents family members, healthcare providers, non-profit entities, and other businesses in a variety of cases while serving as a passionate advocate for mental health awareness.  Her legal work led to her recognition as a Super Lawyers “Rising Star,” which is a national rating used to denote young lawyers with a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement in their career fields. 

Beyond her legal practice, Robin remains active in her community where she recently completed a two-year term as the President of the Women’s Bar Association of Western Pennsylvania.  She currently holds several leadership roles within the Allegheny County Bar Association, including her current positions as a committee co-chair of the Family Law Section and a member of the Women in the Law Division.  Robin also serves as an elected member of the bar association’s Judiciary Committee, which interviews and assigns ratings to candidates for state judicial offices.  As an avid sports fan, Robin completed past internships in NCAA compliance and marketing with the University of Pittsburgh Athletics Department.  Today, Robin enjoys giving back to the Athletics Department through the “Panthers to Pros” mentorship program, where she serves as a guest speaker and provides guidance to student-athletes with interests in legal careers.  She remains dedicated to helping those who face mental health issues by volunteering as a podcast guest and a mentor to girls and women around the country.  Robin is grateful for the opportunity to offer her continued support to the mission of the EmpowHER retreat through her role on the advisory board.

Robin's Bio