Some Local Support Groups

From the Mental Health of America Augusta August Newsletter


Survivors of Suicide Loss:  Peer-to-Peer Support Group

Location: Staunton Augusta YMCA

708 N. Coalter St.

Staunton, Va.  24401

Time: 2nd and 4th Monday of each month from 6:30 pm – 8 pm

Facilitator: Brooke Anderson at 404.617.0448 or

This group is for suicide loss survivors. Everyone in the group, including the facilitator, have had someone close to them die by suicide and knows how devastating that experience can be. The group helps those who have lost a loved one to suicide cope and help in the process of living the healthiest life possible. You can come and just listen to others, or tell your story. Either way, the choice is yours.


Grandparents Support Group

Location: Christ United Methodist Church

1512 Churchville Ave.

Staunton, Va. 24401

Time: 6 pm – 7 pm, 2nd Friday of each month (except April, July, and November)

Contact: Mary Engleman at 885.1257 or Maggie Campbell at 540.256.1320

This group is for grandparents raising their grandchildren enduring the stress of caregiving. Participants will receive support, education on topics and resources of interest, and feel less stressed. Childcare is provided for children age 6 months to 12 years old through the Parents Night Out Program.


NAMI Family to Family Support Group

Location: Augusta County Library
1759 Jefferson Highway
Fishersville, Va.

Time: 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm, 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month

Contact: Sherry Zehr, 540.447.4949

This group is for family members or close friends that have a family member living with a mental illness. Everyone in the group, including the facilitator has a family member or loved one that experiences a mental illness. This is a place that families can come together to share experience and listen to others.

When to Seek Mental Health Care for Children

By Lisa Rochford, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Staunton

for the August Mental Health of America in Augusta County Email Newsletter

The worried mother put her arm around her daughter’s small shoulders. The teenager looked up at her mom, a sad expression on her face. “She’s been asking to talk to someone for a while now,” the mother said. “I knew I had to do something when she started saying she wanted to hurt herself.”

Sometimes as a parent – especially the parent of a teen or pre-teen in the throes of puberty, it’s hard to know when mood, anxiety, conduct problems, and unusual thoughts and behavior rise to the level of needing professional help. The turbulence of adolescence, a child’s fiery or tender temperament, and society’s ideas that “boys will be boys” or that a child just needs to “toughen up” when faced with bad experiences can confuse caregivers about when to get help.

Every child and family is different but the following guidelines can provide some help to know when to pick up the phone to a therapist, psychologist, your pediatrician, or your child’s school guidance counselor, all of whom are trained to work with children with mental health needs:

  1. Your child feels distressed or is causing others significant distress with either emotional or behavior problems that don’t go away despite what both the child and parent try. Or the child may not be able to do what’s expected for his or her age, whether it be socially, academically, or developmentally. If your child is not using single words by age 2 or 3-word phrases by age 3, you should contact the local Early Intervention office or elementary school for free or low-cost services.
  2. If your child asks to talk to a counselor. This is not a usual occurrence and means your child is struggling with an issue with no immediately evident resolution. Sometimes the child does not want to burden the parent with the problem, or hasn’t been able to resolve it by telling the parent. Either way, by getting your child an appointment, you are demonstrating you care and will do what it takes to help the child feel better.
  3. If your child begins to talk about wanting to die or kill him or herself or engages in self-harm. Even if your child is a “dramatic” type and you don’t think he or she means it, your intervention shows you take the sentiments seriously. If you think your child may harm him or herself that day or evening and you don’t already have a counselor to call, you can call the Valley Community Services Board or go to Augusta Health emergency department to see if someone could meet with you and your child right away. In the meantime, watch your child closely, don’t leave him or her unsupervised, and place any medication (even Tylenol), guns, and sharp knives where the child is unable to obtain them.
  4. If your child has a mostly depressed or angry mood for more than two weeks, with low self-esteem, loss of interest in activities or people he or she used to enjoy, and also possibly disturbed sleep and appetite. Depression can strike at any age, especially with stressors like being bullied, having problems with friends or a significant other, or experiencing high levels of stress in the family. Children often have periods where they appear quite happy in the midst of a full-blown depression, so you have to look at your child’s overall mood and how much distress the sadness and anger are causing.
  5. If your child persistently exhibits separation anxiety, worries, does not want to go places or do things most children that age do, or engages in obsessive-compulsive rituals or especially rigid thinking.
  6. If you are experiencing marital difficulty or any other major stress. Your child is likely to feel it, and have the added stress of worrying about you. All children, especially babies and toddlers because they have fewer coping mechanisms and rely so heavily on caregivers for soothing, soak up parental tension and often respond with sleep disturbance, crying, clinginess, hyperactivity, and anger.
  7. If you suspect your child has experienced a trauma such as abuse, being in harm’s way, or seeing a loved one be harmed.
  8. If your child is doing something that is markedly odd, such as engaging in sexualized behavior at an unusual age, complains of hallucinations, such as hearing voices that tell him or her to harm self or others, or becomes unusually hyper with very little sleep and rapid speech. These serious symptoms merit immediate attention.
  9. If you are getting a great deal of complaints from school, especially in more than one school year, about behavior or attention problems, as your child may need help with learning, social skills, mood, or a behavior disorder such as ADHD.

What Is Your Story?

By Emilie S. Thomas M.A., LMFT

Among the myriad therapy techniques out there perhaps one of the most creative is a method called narrative therapy. To simplify greatly, narrative therapy focuses on the stories we tell, both to ourselves and to others, about life. Often these stories are unconscious, yet we create our lives and how we experience our days according to their dictation. The story does not change the external facts, but it can determine how the facts are lived. Therefore, it can be a powerful, life-changing exercise to become aware of our unconscious narratives and learn to shift them if necessary to shift life itself. Sometimes that shift involves a fact-finding mission to provide data with which to compare one’s dominant story. Finding such facts can be powerful indeed, because they can prove how subjective our experiences are, not only to the stories we tell ourselves, but also to the ones we have heard from our family, our friends, and our culture.

A narrative I have come across in working with clients involves the fallacy of complete independence. Clinical studies have identified that alienation and isolation are leading contributors to mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Since incidences of these conditions have been skyrocketing in our culture, it makes sense to examine the disconnect that people are experiencing in their daily lives. In talking with my clients, I have found that many people feel deeply faulty because they are not thriving on their own in the face of sometimes devastating hardship and sadness. They are having difficulty enough through the external facts of their situation, but then they suffer doubly– not just from their conditions but also from their personal narrative about what they should be able to handle alone. If I go on a fact-finding mission with them, we can discover together that those “shoulds” arise largely from our cultural values on independence and self sustenance, brought about by years of others’ narratives and ideas. Stories indeed can and do layer upon each other until they become a kind of accepted truth, even if there is little to no basis in fact.

To illustrate I will consult my perhaps overly extensive knowledge about pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Since I was a young girl I have been captured by her family’s strong independent spirit and their reliance on courage, love and faith to survive tremendous challenges. However, even they did not survive alone. In fact, they spent very little time without neighbors within a mile or so, and they relied on those neighbors for labor, support, childcare, and company. The extent to which they did so is not explicitly revealed in the story books, which emphasize the independence of the pioneer, but it is clear in the many researched biographies written about Wilder. Even childbirth, an event that in our collective narrative was terrifyingly isolated on the frontier, was physically dangerous, but still quite different than modern assumption dictates. In fact, women in that place and time often had “a girl” come in for upwards of two months to cook, clean, and care for older children while the mother rested and bonded with the new baby. If free help from neighbors was not available, people would often pay for it, as is reported by Wilder herself. Contrary to popular narrative, history teaches us that even women on the frontier often had company, support, and work done for them for several months after giving birth- with no guilt. I do not know of one modern family that enjoys such a luxury, let alone feels entitled to it. Therefore, I might say to a young mother struggling with exhaustion: the facts do not lie! Our assumptions and our stories might, but the facts do not. If pioneering Laura Ingalls Wilder expected and received that much help from others as a self-sustaining homesteader, why should modern mothers and fathers shame themselves for not being able to juggle babies, older children, work outside the home, and housework by themselves?

Why should a grieving widow feel like she is weak because our impatient culture tells her that she needs to move on long before the typical two years that grieving actually takes? Why should a man working two jobs feel extra shame when he struggles to support his family on his own because he believes a stronger man could do better? Life is difficult enough. There is a never ending cascade of challenges, obstacles, losses and injustices that we all must face. To suffer with guilt and shame over the tough times when our stories that engender such emotions aren’t even based in reality, is tragic, exhausting and unnecessary. Next time you hit a rough patch, pay attention to how you’re thinking about it. Are you suffering over your suffering? If so, that might be a cue to examine the narrative you’re using to handle the challenge. If it is a critical or unrealistic one, challenge yourself to accept help and support from someone else in changing the story- whether the support comes from a therapist, a friend, or family member. After all, none of us are meant to get through this trip alone.

The Things of Life

By Bill Huffman M.Div., M.A. LPC

Isn’t it amazing how the simple tasks of life can teach us lessons that can transform our lives? I have often wondered about the random events of life and how they affect our lives and the things that we must experience as a result of them. Think about flipping a coin, if you flip it often enough, eventually there will be an equal number of heads and tails since the odds of the coin landing on either is equal. Unfortunately, we may have to experience longer periods of it landing on the other side of the coin before we find that the randomness of the event has equalized. Do we have control over the outcome of any individual toss of the coin? No!! It’s strictly a random event. And if we’re trying to guess the outcome of the coin toss, it can be very frustrating. Many things in life feel like trying to call a coin toss; however, they’re usually not totally random, even the simpler things, like folding a towel.

Folding my bath towel started me on this journey. I noticed that when I folded my towel after a shower, it almost never came out with neat corners, the label hidden and placed neatly on the towel bar. Since I depended on the randomness of towel folding, it almost never came out the way I wanted to. So, one day I decided to be more intentional and deliberate about how I folded my towel and it came out the way I wanted it to every time.  Because of completing this simple task well, I came to realize that we have more control over some apparently random things than we may think. So, how might we apply this to the things of life?

There are many areas of our lives where being more intentional and deliberate will benefit us. Perhaps the most important area of life for many of us is in our relationship with our spouse or significant other. Unfortunately, many of us take this primary relationship for granted. Consequently, we eventually discover that the relationship is in trouble and we don’t understand why. The fact of the matter is that we ignored the relationship; we were distracted by other things and assumed that this person will always be there. There are many potential reasons for a relationship to fail; however, I have come to recognize through my work that social media, smart phones, and ipads have become a primary contributing factor to relationship issues.

Often couples complain about a lack of communication in their relationship.  People are over-scheduled.  Imagine a couple at home in the evening on their phones, busy with whatever and not talking. I frequently hear couples say they do the same thing when travelling in the car together. Are they intentional about improving their communication? No. Do they need to be? Yes. How could that happen we might ask? By deliberately putting the phones away with the intent of actually engaging each other about their day or anything else they want to actually talk about.

There are many people today who are relationship deprived and who desire conversation and relationship. Let’s make it happen by intentionally moving away from the phone, ipad or other things that distract us from our relationships and deliberately fold the towel of relationship well.

Parenting Strategies

By Stephanie Sterling M.A. LPC

Attunement: “being or bringing into harmony; a feeling of being “at one” with another being”.

With the vast number of parenting strategies, the volumes written giving parenting advice, and the plethora of parenting books in print out there – it can be a daunting task to determine what information offers sound instruction versus what is meant to be helpful but renders little result.

An effective approach to connecting with a child, building a relationship of trust, and laying the foundation for successful discipline and character development starts with attuned parenting. What is attuned parenting? Attuned parenting is defined as a belief that children thrive when they feel seen, understood, and emotionally connected to their parents. Parents can reflect on their children’s behaviors and emotional experiences, facilitating awareness and understanding on the part of the parent toward the child, which in turn, informs parental responses to the child that can lead to greater cooperation, positive interactions, and happier relationships between parents and children.

Attuned parenting believes that:

  • Children’s and parents’ behaviors have underlying meaning.
  • Negative emotions are necessary aspects of emotional growth.
  • The ability to repair connections after an angry disruption is an important skill, both for children and for parents.
  • Children need to feel acknowledged, recognized, and understood.
  • Parents are able to better reflect their children’s underlying feelings when attuned to their own feelings.
  • Being a parent triggers a broad range of emotional reactions that impact interactions with your child.
  • Parenting carries a lifetime opportunity for growth and transformation.

I remember a pastor of mine stating “rules without relationship won’t work”. Attunement is a way of being with your child that enhances the development of a connected and empathic relationship. When that is intentionally created and cultivated, it builds the foundation for greater cooperation when boundaries are needed to shape desired behavior and for the encouragement of character development. Attuned parenting also assumes that a child’s negative behavior indicates the child is attempting to communicate a need that is otherwise not being met and that the child lacks the tools to be able to meet the need successfully at present on his/her own.

Attuned parents ask themselves these questions in an effort to understand and “see” their child:  How does my child feel? Are they happy or sad, interested, engaged, capable of listening? Are they hungry or tired, in distress or just needing to be held? What is the best way to communicate to the child, whether something you notice in their behavior that is right or wrong, a feeling an idea…in any moment? What will engage, encourage, and show them feelings of love and care? What will be heard, perceived, felt, and learned — in short, what the parent will communicate — depends upon how receptive the child is. And how well a parent reads a child’s receptivity depends upon an understanding of how humans communicate without words. Nonverbal communication characterizes a large percentage of our day to day interactions with other humans – a glance across a room, a wave, a smile, a wink or a nod, a look of disapproval, a scowl – all non verbal signals communicate a significant amount of information with no use of words. It is important to know your child can literally sense your interest as well as your approval or disapproval in them.

Attuned parenting offers strategies to assist parents in connecting to and understanding the child while fostering a strong attachment relationship so that cooperation with “rules” is enhanced. If you are interested in learning more about attuned parenting, please feel free to contact me at the center and I would be delighted to help.

Please note that some ideas taken from, Dr. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. (Research Professor of Child Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Baylor College of Medicine; and Chief of Psychiatry, Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston, Texas and Susan Stern, LCSW – founder of The Social Skills Place, Inc).