June Newsletter


We are proud to have accomplished so much in the past year and we want to share it with you! So, we are scheduling a “Showcase” for Wednesday, August 29th. Light refreshments, handouts, raffle items, and opportunities to ask questions are in the works. More details are coming!

This Past Month: Highlights

May was mental health awareness month. It was also a month that featured many other initiatives for other causes so we are especially grateful to those who generously donated to Grow a Strong Family through our various campaigns on Facebook, through the website, and at the Red Heat Tavern.

The winner of the $25 gift card to the Red Heat Tavern is (drum roll), Sharon Connolly from Urgent Care!

We want to send a shout out to the Red Heat Tavern for hosting this event, giving us 15% of the food proceeds from the day, and donating the gift card! The community support is welcome and a win for everyone, not to mention that the Tavern is a great gathering place and has excellent food!

Grow a Strong Family was one of 15 mini-grant recipients from CHNA15 and we participated in their Annual Showcase. It was a good opportunity to be a part of a group of community organizations offering needed services to the community, supported by the generosity of CHNA15. After an hour of showing off our successful projects, we were treated to a panel discussion on Suicide Prevention. The keynote and facilitator, Jon Mattleman (https://www.jonmattleman.com/) did an excellent job of speaking to the diverse audience and increasing their awareness. One of the tools that he shared was, “Tell me more,” when someone says to you, “Life is not worth living,” or other suicidal thoughts. The panelists included Jake Cavanaugh, founder of the Nan Project (https://thenanproject.org/) whose mission is “saving lives and heal families.” The young adult speaker (http://mindingyourmind.org/) was from “Minding your mind,” and offered thoughtful discussion of the collateral impact when a friend is a successful suicide. Tom Denton, the Director of Guidance at Needham Public Schools and a Bedford Resident, along with Robin Krawcyck from Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Elder Services, rounded out the panel. Suicide and its impact on family and friends is not talked about enough. These resources are opening the discussion across generations.

We, too, have added two webinars on the topic on our website: Suicidality is a general discussion and education about the topic: https://growastrongfamily.org/suicidality/ and “managing suicidal behavior” gets to the nuts and bolts on actions that caring loved ones can take: https://growastrongfamily.org/managing-suicidal-behavior/

The group, “Replanting lives uprooted by mental illness: Support for families,” continues to explore the ways that families can build resilience and acquire the skills and tools needed to embrace better outcomes for everyone in the family. The focus of this past month was on “Coping when loved ones are symptomatic: This session explored several resources for family members to manage more effectively when their loved ones are symptomatic. How to detach, with or without love, in a healthy way. What is reasonable to do? What boundaries make sense?” For more information, click here and see both our televised production and our webinar: https://growastrongfamily.org/coping-when-symptomatic/

The evening group discussed Family CPR Specific activities that families can employ when faced with a loved one’s symptoms.


Replanting Lives is a FREE group that meets the 2nd Tuesday morning, 10:30-noon, at the Gleason Public Library in Carlisle MA; and the 2nd Wednesday of every month from 7-8:30 PM at the Bedford Council of Aging at 12 Mudge Way,Bedford.

Directions to the Gleason Public Library in Carlisle are easy since it is right on Route 225 in Carlisle! Directions to the Bedford Council on Aging: take Great Road to Elm Street (between the Bedford Fire Dept and the Unitarian Church). At the end of Elm Street, there is a stop sign, go right and then bear left (there is a sign showing the COA is to the left). There is a large parking area. When you walk in the building, go straight! You are there!

For questions and to register (recommended), please contact Mara Briere at 781-405-8376 or GASFInc@outlook.com

Coming up:

In association with the Gleason Public Library and the Carlisle Council on Aging, we are offering the following events FREE, at the Gleason Public Library, 10:30-noon.

Replanting Lives Uprooted by Mental illness:

Tues June 12: Three legs of a triangle: managing crisis without succumbing to crisis. This discussion focuses on strategies to increase safety, apply “family CPR: compassion, (parental/partner) guidance, reassurance,” and tools for defusing family stress.

In association with the Bedford COA and the Edinburg Center and Central NAMI Middlesex, we are offering the following events FREE at the Bedford COA on Wednesdays from 7-8:30 pm:

Wednesday, June 12: The 7 C’s This session explores the helplessness that family members often feel in the face of chronic brain disorders. How can the conflicting ideas that tend to occupy caretakers and family members be demystified? Journeying on the 7C’s offers the insight and understanding to accept “what is” rather than founder in a sea of misinformation and “what if.” Let’s right our boats together!


Share In the Grow a Strong Family Showcase! August 29th!

The Showcase features Grow a Strong Family’s mission to bring comprehensive multimedia programs to the community in a variety of online and in-person formats. Our Showcase is your opportunity to network, gather new ideas, learn about exciting projects developed by Grow a Strong Family, and be a part of what is going on in your community.

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

This has been a battle cry of educators everywhere.  And, as a society, we recognize the costs of ignorance by socioeconomic factors.  In general, people with less education do not earn as much as people with education.  This affects housing, community development, lifestyle, and crime.

Well, this is also true of the issues surrounding stigma and mental illness.  According to Wikipedia (clearest definition I found), “Social stigma is disapproval of a person based on socially characteristic grounds that are perceived, and serve to distinguish them, from other members of a society.”  In World War 2, Japanese Americans were stigmatized.  During the 1950’s, Russian Americans were stigmatized.  Throughout history, groups of people have been stigmatized including gypsies, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Gays, Blacks, and the list goes on.  In medical treatment, the list has included individuals with developmental disabilities, missing limbs, deformities, diabetes type 2, cancer, mental illness.  Eventually, many of these groups were able to move from social stigma to social acceptance through campaigns aimed at education and solutions.

Grow a Strong Family has determined that its mission is to educate and support families uprooted by mental illness.  Through our comprehensive multimedia approach to education and support, it is an effective antidote to the ignorance that represents itself as stigma.  We offer families solutions in the form of information, strategies, resources, and ongoing support.  This enables families to advocate more effectively for their loved ones and demand appropriate change in attitude and treatment options.

In our current culture, once an individual is determined to be an adult, around 18 years of age, the family is summarily dismissed from the care and treatment of their loved one.  The irony is that the onset of most mental illnesses is in the transition age years, between 14 and 30 years of age, with the more serious illness like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in the earlier end of the spectrum.  We expect these individuals to make decisions about their care with their brains that are not working properly.  Consider, if you will, allowing someone with a dementia or a traumatic brain injury to make their own decisions regarding their care.  The brain that is used to discriminate is not able to.  We would no sooner let a loved one with a dementia manage their own medications and environment due to safety concerns than we would a toddler.  This is what we do to individuals with mental illnesses.  Worse, we exclude their family members from information and options due to the misused Hippa Laws (may that be changed very soon).

Untreated and under-treated mental illness leads to instability.  Instability looks like verbal and physical abuse, violence, homelessness, substance use, prison, and other undesirable outcomes.  The solution lies in supervised living environments, assisted outpatient treatment, mandated medical compliance, and family involvement.  Research consistently shows that when families are involved as team members with service providers who know how to treat the seriously mentally ill, the outcomes are significantly better than without family involvement.

Grow a Strong Family encourages better outcomes through our comprehensive menu of online resources, available whenever, however, and wherever families need them.  We understand the crucial role that families play with regards to caring for loved ones with serious mental illnesses.  Every family has someone who is unwell; support them.  Learn.  Educate yourself.  Then, you can offer them the social support they need!

Thank you!

Our Goal: Services and Care

Instead of using Mental Health Awareness Month to teach the public there is stigma to mental illness, let’s focus on demanding politicians create more housing, more clubhouses, more rehab programs, hire more doctors, build more facilities, and make transportation options available to those who need them. Let’s fight for more research, more hospitals, easier access to Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), and laws that prevent someone from becoming danger to self or others rather than requiring it.

Read more at: https://mentalillnesspolicy.org/dont-use-mental-health-awareness-month-to-fight-stigma/

What do we really need? Consequences of the status quo

Learn more: Insane consequences: How the mental health industry fails the mentally

Please Donate!

April 2018 Happenings!

How many years have you been involved with someone who is mentally ill?


We were so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from a master. Nancy Pizzo Boucher is a gracious and wise speaker, writer, and advocate. We were all so moved by her presentation and she has offered to do it again, after her next book gets published! In the mean time, I had the opportunity to “interview” Nancy on Bedford TV and it should be airing very soon ( look for a link to the interview on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/growastrongfamily/). See the rest of the newsletter for more! April 2018 newsletter

Replanting Lives: Directions!

Replanting Lives” is a support group that meets twice a month, the 2nd Tuesday morning (10:30-noon at the Gleason Public Library in Carlisle MA) and second  Wednesday evening (7-8:30pm at the Bedford COA at 12 Mudge Way), based on the book, “Replanting Lives Uprooted by Mental Illness: A Practical Guide for Families,” by Nancy Pizzo Boucher.

Directions to the Gleason Public Library in Carlisle are easy since it is right on Route 225 in Carlisle! Directions to the Bedford Council on Aging: take Great Road to Elm Street. At the stop sign, go right and then left (there is a sign showing the COA is to the left). There is a large parking area. When you walk in the building, go straight! You are there! Any questions, feel free to call 781-405-8376 for assistance.

Each FREE session is conducted by Mara Briere, MA, CFLE and a co-facilitator

Unconditional love; conditional participation

When I was walking around trees, following deer tracks, listening to the music of red-wing blackbirds, I realized that I love my family members unconditionally. It does not matter to my loving them that they are unwell. Where the conditional aspects of our relationships come in are around their behaviors when they are unwell. When they are hurtful, dangerous to me, unkind, disrespectful, scary – these are behaviors I don’t let into my life from anyone, and that means, not from them either. I am willing to have them in my life when they are able to behave in ways that I want to be a part of. The strings are, “As long as you are able to be around me, on my terms, we’re good.” I am not closing any doors. I am merely defining the parameters for participating in my life. And my (currently) estranged family members seem to be aware of this. I consider their estrangement from me as a way that they are protecting me from their unwellness. What are your thoughts?

About GASF

We had the opportunity to connect with a blogger who has a great deal of wisdom and insights (The Bipolar Manifesto http://www.yourbipolarfriend.com/index.php/general/effectively-managing-a-bipolar-relationship/ ).  In the course of our discussion, GASF (the Founder) answered some very thoughtful questions about us.  Here is a partial transcript:

Our model of operation in all programs is that mental illness is a chronic illness and can be managed effectively.  It is “typical” whether or not people talk about it.  WE not only talk about it, we actively look to promote recovery for the whole family and maintenance so that acute episodes can be taken in stride and the chronic nature of mental illness accepted and managed.

What drew me to creating this organization was when my adult child was diagnosed with a mental illness and there were no services available for us as a family.  I had been an in-home therapist with families with children with behavioral issues and I worked for an agency that provided general services for the parents and friends so that they could network, find support, and improve their family systems.  I had an idea that the model would extend to services for adults.  “Nay, nay.”  Being a fee-for-service clinician with a lot of professional and personal experience, I was appalled and sought to right this wrong.  So, I brought my considerable experience to the forefront and after several different attempts to get something going, founded Grow A Strong Family.

One questions that often comes up is, “Are your programs evidence-based?”  They are evidence-informed.  The only evidence-based referral I make is to NAMI’s Family-to-family program since I think it is an excellent introduction into this new world.  Otherwise, there is not anything “out there” that is specific to this population.  Integrating evidence-based and evidence-informed material from other sources (like the substance abuse and education fields), I bring it out in ways that enable our population to grow.

“Parent 1 and Parent 2 have a mentally ill child (when I say child, assume any age including adult). Parent 1 insists on an approach with boundaries, almost teetering totally into tough-love but not necessarily. Parent 2 insists on compassion to the point of enabling, often stemming from guilt and fear of being a bad parent or failing their child”.  GASF response to this scenario: In typically developing families, parents often have different parenting styles.  So, why not when a child is atypically developing due to a mental illness?  Our underlying philosophy is that each parent is entitled to have a relationship with the child(ren) independent of the other parent so long as there is no abuse.  They do not have to like or agree with the other’s way of handling things however they may not undermine or otherwise negate the other parent’s contribution to the growth and development of the child. They do need to have an agreement about safety, however.  A general rule of thumb is that whichever parent is more bothered by a behavior gets to deal with the behavior.  When both parents must come to a place of agreement, such as whether an adult child moves back home, they come up with a plan that works for them before extending the invitation to the child.

In situation 2, ” Compassionate, loving parent is being manipulated and gamed by mentally ill child. Parent is unable to separate the difference between an acute bout of unwellness and someone who is toxic and potentially destructive to their life and health.”  Our role as family life education coaches is to offer alternative views of the behaviors that the parent is experiencing.  We ask more questions than make statements so that they can determine for themselves that the behavior is toxic.  We have many resources that we offer these parents including the powerful module from the “Replanting lives” workbook on “Finding the person in the illness.”  This brings the parent in touch with the best of their child and they can then note (for themselves) how their child has changed and the cost to them as a parent of acting in ways that are self-destructive and unhelpful to their child.  There are also rich discussions of the difficulty of identifying symptom from personality/behavior and we help them tease that out through offering developmental and mental health information.  Again, our approach is to bring the parent to an aha moment so that they can make informed decisions about how they want to move forward vis a vis their child.

” Does your material and services require participation by both family and the mentally ill person together? Can it quietly benefit a person who is basically trying to survive a destructive mentally ill loved one?”  Our materials and services are designed for the family members so participation by the family is necessary.  If they want to include their loved one with mental illness, they are welcome to do so, however it would be as part of a private coaching session.  The presentations are not designed for the sensibilities of the individuals with mental illnesses so much as the focus is on the family as a whole and its needs in particular.  Our model is designed to encourage positive outcomes so whomever participates brings their acquired knowledge and skills to the family system. In that way, there is both active and passive changes.  As in 12 step programs, even if only one member of the family participates and makes changes, the whole family becomes impacted by that.  Same thing here.  Very often, we get one family member at presentations and they report that they share what they are learning with their families.  In coaching, we are likely to get the primary caretaker and if there is a spouse or significant other, they attend also.  Our services are available to the whole family, however, and we are open to problem-solve accordingly.

Grow a Strong Family is about building resilience in families that have been sideswiped by a difficult family illness that won’t typically resolve itself with previous strategies.  They can grow and become strong, however, and a healthy model for all of their family members, including their loved one with mental illness.  When there is a recovery model, everyone benefits.

“Do you feel it is ever appropriate for a person to eject a mentally ill person from their life for good? Family member or not?”  On the surface, no.  We are not in favor of shunning any family member, especially when they are mentally ill.  We can see where there are times when a limit must be set for safety purposes and that may look like ejection.  However, all individuals have choices, even individuals with serious mental illness. In our experience, more family members are rejected by their loved ones with mental illness than the other way around. We can’t even begin to count how many parents are estranged from their adult children with mental illness because they set down safety limits and their children did not want to agree to them. These parents mourn for the loss of their child and the loss of their opportunity to participate in their child’s recovery.  Of course, their children do not necessarily want to participate in their own recovery, never mind with familial support.

January Newsletter

Grow a Strong Family Inc.
Monthly Newsletter
January, 2018
This Past Month: December on the Road

Like many of you, we took the opportunity to assess our progress this year and determine where we needed to make improvements. We are still a young organization and there is so much to do!

We have recognized a void in programming for families of transition age youth (15-25 year olds) who are aging out or in need of mental health services. As such, we are in the process of initiating the development of a module based curriculum of materials focused specifically on families with transition age youth. This is in addition to continuing to develop and distribute materials for all families uprooted by mental illness.

Most of the energy of this year has been expended in building our brand, developing materials, collaborating with community agencies, and writing and acquiring funding through grants.

We have also received many essential donations through our website Support Our Organization and our Facebook page.   Feel free to donate to our organization so that we may continue to bring free customized services to families uprooted by mental illness.

The group, “Replanting lives uprooted by mental illness: Support for families,” continues to explore the ways that families can strengthen their responses to the changes in the family when a loved one has a mental illness. The focus of this past month was on managing the holidays. Participants were encouraged to anticipate possible scenarios and prepare in advance for them. The sessions included exercises in using basic communication skills in order to prevent misunderstandings.

This FREE group meets the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of every month from 7-8:30 PM at the Edinburg Center, 205 Burlington Road, Bedford. For questions and to register (recommended), please contact Janet Hodges at 781-761-5287 or jhodges@edinburgcenter.org

We also offered a daytime session of the “Replanting Lives” in Carlisle at the Gleason Public Library. It was a promising beginning as a handful of members of the Concord/Carlisle Community joined us in discussing how guilt and responsibility impacts our relationships with our loved ones. We are planning on offering another session in January!

Please help us continue to grow by filling out this survey

What’s New? January Happenings

Tuesday, Jan. 9: 10:30-12 at the Gleason Library in Carlisle. Replanting Lives Uprooted by Mental Illness: Support for Families – Finding the Person. It is easy to get caught up in the symptoms of mental illness/brain disorders and lose sight of the very person we love! This session guides family members on balancing the person and the illness. The discussion includes some strategies for managing more efficiently and respectfully. Join us as we discover how to create more resilience in our families. FREE! For questions and to Register (not required but preferred): or 781.405.8376

Wednesday Jan 17: Webinar: ADHD (Attention Differently and Happily Developed), 12-1 pm. Focus is on what ADHD is, symptoms, gifts, and strategies. Registration preferred:  ADHD Webinar

Wednesday Jan 31: Webinar: Moving On: Managing Ambiguous Grief. 12-1 pm When a loved one is diagnosed with a mental illness/brain disorder, our loved one and ourselves experience a sense of uncertainty and quite often a sense of loss as everyone grapples with the new circumstances. This webinar discusses how to cope with this difficult process. Registration preferred: Moving On Webinar

These tips are essential for getting through tough times!

Stick to your “normal” routines as much as you can
Eat and drink in moderation
Plan on exercise; build in “nature” time.
Make sure you have a Plan B and a Plan C in place for the unexpected
Keep music that you love on hand and listen to it when needing to
Prioritize your time, activities, and commitments (do what you want to and can)
Take good, loving care of yourself!

We have several pages on our website with presentations you may find useful:

Cope when loved ones are symptomatic

Parenting children with behavioral health issues

Caring for the caretaker

If you want to join our online community, please do!

Our public page is FB Public Page

Our private page is: FB Private Page

When extra support is desired, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here at www.growastrongfamily.org

We appreciate the generosity of so many people who have donated to Grow A Strong Family! We cannot thank you enough in supporting this mission and nurturing its growth. As we grow, so do the families who are uprooted by mental illness. When 1 in 4 adults has a mental illness, we know that just about every family is impacted. Grow A Strong Family makes sure that they are not alone! Your donation helps us achieve this. Thank you again! Feel free to do so through our website http://growastrongfamily.org/support-our-organization/

May 2018 bring you and your family health, resilience, and love.

Have a healthy and peaceful holiday season.

Grow A Strong Family is a Non-Profit Organization Dedicated to Working With The Families of Those with Mental Illnesses & Behavioral Issues

Three Legs of a Triangle

This piece is a gift from Replanting Lives author Nancy Pizzo Boucher

If you have a loved one living at home with you who has a serious mental illness, you will likely have times together as a family when  illness symptoms flare and lead to a crisis situation that is tumultuous at least and tragic at worst.

Our son had his first psychotic break 23 years ago when he was a freshman in college . Except for a few months in the beginning years of his illness, he  has lived at home with his dad and me since then.

In support of families dealing with a loved one with  mental illness crises at their homes, I want pass along to you practices that we have learned as a family to do. These practices have kept us alive and going forward together,  and minimized the suffering for all.

The conceptual framework that I use to hold  our practices is a triangle.

A triangle structure predictive of escalated and serious outcomes  in crises in a home  has these 3 legs :

1. proximity opportunity and access to things that could be used a weapon

2. family member with serious mental illness experiencing illness symptoms which can have a level of emotion that is disinhibiting , driven and impulsive –
symptoms such as : paranoia, delusions, and confused thinking
3. person / persons present in the home for the loved one in crisis to outlet his/ her intolerable internal distress ontoIf you take away even one leg of the triangle  described above, the level of violence is de-escalated,  and tragedy is diminished.

Family members have some  control over legs 1  and 3 of the this potentially explosive situation and thus hold a key to greatly weakening/ diminishing the probability of injury .

As parents, here is how we addressed leg 1 of the triangle:

We began to look at anything in our home  that could be used as weapon and remove it far enough out of sight and impulsive reach. For example, we got rid of our knife block on the counter and moved  our knives into a holder in a drawer.  We vigilantly put any tools like hammers etc. that were  being used in house fix it projects away after use.

As parents, here is how we addressed leg 3 of the triangle:

We left the house  as soon as serious symptoms began flaring and our son began using threatening words.  When we first began this practice, we verbalized to our son the following:  We are so sorry not feeling well, you are having serious illness symptoms, your words are threatening and your behavior is not safe. Use one of your cool down strategies. You can calm yourself down. We believe in you. We love you always. Call us when your mind has cleared and it is safe for us to come home . When we realized  that verbal input was way too much for him, we transitioned to just leaving the house quietly, and leaving a written note  with the same basic  messages- then off we’d go to Denny’s all hours of the night!

In essence before we left,  we administered what I call family CPR.  Some of this guidance I learned from our son by seeking and listening to his direct feedback when he was not symptomatic and his mind was clear, and  by being  attentive to his reactions .

Family CPR:


Parental Guidance:


Direct family education about practices such as our family uses is a proactive and preventative step that could make a critical difference in outcomes for family and for their  loved ones who suffer with a serious mental illness. It shouldn’t take a great deal of funding, but it could have a huge positive impact.

peace and goodwill
Nancy Pizzo Boucher