Peer support group connects those facing similar issues with mental health |

Peer support group connects those facing similar issues with mental health

CONNECT Summit County, the nonprofit organization created to address the challenges of dealing with mental health and substance abuse, has created a new peer support group to help the loved ones of those struggling with mental health issues.

The idea for the support group came from a parent's roundtable discussion, according to Shauna Wiest, executive director of CONNECT. She said the roundtable group was formed in 2016 to help parents with children suffering from mental health issues navigate the school system.

"A lot of what came out of the parent roundtable meetings informed CONNECT's programming," she said. "We received feedback that parents wanted more support to talk about the problems they were enduring. They wanted to talk about it with someone who has been there."

The support group is open to parents, friends and family of children and adults living with mental health challenges. The group meets on the last Tuesday of each month from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. in room 133 at the Sheldon Richins Building in Kimball Junction. The meetings are open to anyone 18 or older. The first group met last month.

More than 20 people attended the first meeting, Wiest said, adding "we may need to break into two additional groups where one is parent focused and the other is just in general adults with mental health challenges."

"We were very encouraged by the first meeting because it was a place where people can freely discuss matters that are very sensitive or troubling," she said.

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The support group is facilitated by Janet DeMars, of Red Willow Counseling and Recovery. However, Wiest emphasized that the meetings are not therapy sessions.

"It is a chance to talk with others who are experiencing the same type of issues and by doing so supporting each other," she said. The local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) used to host similar support groups in the area, but those ended, Wiest said. She said the termination of the group meetings created a gap in the community.

"They no longer had a place where they could go to talk about the mental health challenges of their loved ones," she said. "It's really helpful when people can talk about your shared experiences and you know you are not alone. We hope that this lessens the stigma of mental health because they can come out and discuss shared problems in a very safe environment. We hope it continues to inform our future programming even though it is a confidential group."

Natalie Herron, the CONNECT board member responsible for creating the program, said in a statement on the organization's website it will be "a safe, friendly and trusting space where confidentiality is expected and maintained."

"This is not therapy," she said. "It's a chance to learn and talk with others experiencing the same types of issues and by doing so to support each other."

For information about the group, go to