Letter from Valerie Barton

Letter from Valerie Barton

When I first watched NO LETTING GO, the film that recounts our founder, Randi Silverman’s, experience as she struggled to find resources and support for her struggling child, there was so much that I related to in the film: the fear, the pain, the terrible feeling that you are doing everything you can to help your child and they are still suffering. And, yes, the judgment from other parents whose children do not have those challenges and do not understand.

My son, who will be finishing high school next year, has struggled with his mental health for many years. My husband and I slogged through the stages that, I’ve come to learn, are common for parents and caregivers who are doing their best to navigate a dizzying array of schools, therapists, medications, and other needed resources.

  1. The sinking feeling of knowing something is wrong but not knowing what.
  2. Getting the diagnoses.
  3. Casting about to find the right therapist and psychiatrist.
  4. Trying school after school until finding one that accepted him for who he was and gave him the behavioral and social strategies to manage his feelings and anxieties.
  5. Good days. Bad days.
  6. Repeat. Over and over again.

I am deeply honored to be leading The Youth Mental Health Project, following in Randi’s footsteps, and working to ensure that other parents and caregivers do not have to experience the isolation and misunderstanding that Randi’s and my family have experienced. While turning inward is a common response to a painful experience, Randi courageously decided to turn outward, to become an advocate and spokesperson, and to build a not-for-profit from the ground up. I, too, am eager to turn outward, to work for change in how we think and talk about our mental health.

We cannot tackle what we do not acknowledge. Education, empowerment, and support are the keys to changing the culture around mental health in our country: this is the mission of The Youth Mental Health Project. We believe that parents and adult caregivers are the most important people in a child’s life and supporting them is key to a child’s mental health.

The pandemic has thrust mental health into the national consciousness. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to engage parents, families, caregivers, schools, coaches, faith leaders, and young people themselves in moving what has historically been regarded as shameful into a place of openness and sunlight. With the recent increased focus on youth mental health and funding from federal, state, and local governments, foundations, and corporations, there is an opportunity to change the trajectory of how our children and grandchildren understand, talk about, and manage challenges to their mental health.

I have hope that, in the future, talking about mental health – both good and not-so-good – will be as natural and commonplace as talking about a healthy diet, broken bones, chronic physical conditions, or acute illnesses.

I have hope that, in the future, mental health resources and supports will be readily accessible for children, youth, and families.

The Youth Mental Health Project is ready to meet this moment of acute need and national focus on mental health through The Parent Support Network, educational events, and informational resources. There is much work to be done and I am thrilled to be a part of it.