Experts say that parents facing a mental illness should strive to communicate with their children, particularly about resiliency. An eight-session workshop starting Tuesday in Philadelphia will help parents figure out the best ways to do this.
Child and Family Connections runs the free workshop, called “Parenting with a Mental Illness.” Started in 2010, the nonprofit is dedicated to boosting trust and communication in families that have a parent with a psychiatric disability.
Evan Kaplan, CEO of CFC, has bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He co-founded the organization when his daughter Charlotte, now 12, came to him wanting a place to talk about the effect of his diagnoses.
Kaplan says the workshop will give parents the tools they need to talk to their children.
“The goals are ultimately to help the parents have that conversation and develop those skills and not just have a conversation but have an ongoing conversation and dialogue and relationship with their children about their mental illness,” Kaplan said.
The workshop approaches communication from many angles, even having parents compose letters to their children in which they explain what it’s like to have the mental illness.
“We bring in sort of a multimedia type approach,” Kaplan said. “We do role-playing, we have guest speakers, there’s film, we do some creative arts therapies, a lot of informal presentations and then a lot of discussion period as well.”
Facilitators promote methods like “emotional regulation and emotional validation.” Kaplan explained that the strategies help parents learn to control their own feelings — anger or guilt, for example — while also validating their kid’s emotions during conversations.
CFC recruited some participants from behavioral health providers and also received referrals. All of the workshop facilitators are other parents with mental illnesses who have been trained by CFC. Kaplan hopes this peer-led and group approach will help foster a support system of parents struggling with the same situation.
Estimates from the National Institutes of Health suggest that about one in four adults could be diagnosed with mental illness each year. Many of those people are parents. However, in all but 14 states, it is legal to use a disability such as a mental illness as justification in terminating parental custody rights.
The CFC workshop is run in partnership with and funded by the Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion. Another eight-week series will begin in September in Delaware County.