A new family support group in Pleasantville was launched last week that aims to help families deal with their youngsters’ substance abuse, addiction and mental illness issues.
PvilleCares, a bi-weekly, drop-in group was started by Colleen Griffin Wagner, a professional mental health counselor and former village trustee, who saw the need for families to share their stories and learn about resources that could help guide them.
“When someone has a child or loved one with mental health issues, it affects everyone, especially parents and siblings,” Wagner said. “There’s all sorts of research that shows talking about what causes pain in these situations is good for you. I want to provide a safe space where people can share what’s going on, feel supported and know they are not alone.”
Wagner hopes that PvilleCares will be able to help families cope with the stress, guilt, shame, anger, fear and social isolation that often accompany the stigma of mental illness, substance abuse and addiction.
“I know first-hand, as a mother and as a professional counselor, what it’s like to face a difficult situation in your own family,” said Wagner, a single mother of three sons, one of whom has struggled with substance abuse issues.
She has worked with several organizations as a mental health counselor and clinician, including St. Christopher’s, a residential treatment center with campuses in Dobbs Ferry, Valhalla and New Windsor. Currently, she is pursuing her doctorate in mental health at Pace University. Wagner also co-founded Pleasantville’s Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) and the Pleasantville AYSO Very Important Player (VIP) Program, volunteers as a crisis counselor for the Crisis Text Line, and a member of Pleasantville STRONG, a coalition to reduce drug use and underage drinking in the community.
“I’ve had many opportunities to work with families and their children who are dealing with mental health issues and addiction,” she said. “People view addiction as a weakness. It’s an illness, not a weakness.”
In the United States, there are about 40 million people 12 years old and up that have substance abuse problems, according to the Manhattan-based Center on Addiction. Substance abuse and addiction affect more Americans than heart conditions, diabetes or cancer.
The center has also stated that 46 percent of high school students currently use addictive substances and 12 percent of students have a substance abuse problem.
On matters related to mental health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that about 6.1 million children two to 17 years old have received an ADHD diagnosis; about 4.5 million children three to 17 years old have a diagnosed behavior problem; 4.4 million children in that age range have diagnosed anxiety; and about 1.9 million children of that age have diagnosed depression.
The CDC also reported that in 2017 there were more than 6,200 suicides among young people 15 to 24 years old.
“I really believe that we are in the midst of an epidemic,” Wagner said. “Suicide is on the rise as is co-occurring disorders, which is someone with ADHD and a substance issue or anxiety and a substance issue. These disorders are happening with youth and selected young adults who are self-medicating to help with other mental health issues.”
Wagner said even though parents may not be experts, they have the experiences of caring for their children and can relate to others how they are coping and the challenges they are facing.
“Your experience can be helpful to your neighbor,” she explained. “You’ve had similar experiences and navigating that can be scary and isolating. Everyone needs to have a peer group. We go to our children’s sports games, and we see them performing in school plays. What do you do if your child has a mental health issue? PvilleCares is about widening your support network.”
Currently the group is meeting at the Pleasantville Recreation Center at 48 Marble Ave. in Pleasantville, a space the village is charging. Wagner is hopeful she will find a free space in the near future that will be a permanent home for PvilleCares. Family members do not need to be Pleasantville residents to attend the meetings and participate.
PvilleCares meets on the first and third Wednesdays of each month from 7:30 until 9 p.m. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit PvilleCares on Facebook.