No Letting Go with Guest Randi Silverman Part 2

This week we are bringing you part two of a special two-part interview. The Mental Health Mamas are joined by guest Randi Silverman. Randi is an award-winning screenwriter and producer of the feature film, No Letting Go, the Co-Founder of the Youth Mental Health Project and a fellow Mental Health Mama. Listen in as Tina, Serena and Randi talk about turning pain into purpose, self-care and a more perfect world.

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Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.

Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as the parents of kids who struggle with their emotional health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website,

Tina: Welcome to part 2 of our two-part interview with our guest Randi Silverman. If you haven’t listened to last week’s episode we recommend that you start there!

Serena: Yeah. So let’s talk about the idea that you speak about. Turning your pain into purpose or what some people might call your “why”.

Tina: And certainly something that these soul sisters can relate to, right? We want you to talk a little bit about that pain/purpose/why as well as a bit about your organization, The Youth Mental Health Project.

Randi: Well, thank you for asking that. As you may know from watching the film, spoiler alert for anyone out there who hasn’t seen the film and wants to watch it, the mother does not die from breast cancer. But I am a breast cancer survivor. That’s a true part of my own story. And when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent nine months of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, I was surrounded by support and help. Surrounded. I mean the flowers, the casseroles, right? And it was lovely but it made me kind of angry because all I could think about was, where was this when I really needed it? When my son wouldn’t leave the house for two years and I couldn’t find school and he had no friends any more. Things were so awful. I would sit in the chemotherapy chair for the rest of my life every day if I could take away the pain that my son endures. Honestly. And everything that he went through as a child which was so horribly unfair to him. And I thought, wait a second, I remember when cancer was the “c-word”, particularly breast cancer. And for those of you listening who are too young to remember, this is a true fact, there didn’t used to be pink ribbons everywhere, right? It used to be, she has cancer [whispered], the “c-word”. They’d call it the “c-word”. And whisper it. And you weren’t supposed to talk about it. And now football players are wearing pink ribbons. I mean, it’s everywhere. And I thought, wait a minute, how did that change in my lifetime? And how it changed was that families, brothers, sisters, daughters, mothers, stood up and said, we will no longer hide in the shadows and be ashamed when we have breast cancer because if we start talking about it, we can promote a public health campaign. We can teach them about mammograms and self-care and you know, because of that millions and millions and millions of dollars have gone into research and I am a survivor because of that because mine was caught early enough from a mammogram. And had I not done that, I would not have survived. And so that’s because families stood up and so when I was struggling, when I was fighting breast cancer, I thought to myself we have to do this for mental health problems. Why on Earth...there are, as you know, I think, 80 million Americans who struggle with mental health disorders, right? There are approximately, and this statistic may be a couple of years old but at the time I researched the American Cancer Association said there were approximately 2 million breast cancer survivors and people undergoing treatment for breast cancer in a given year. Versus 80 million Americans, right?

So we need, you know, to get loud. So we need to stand up and fight for this. So that really at that moment in time became my mission. How can we change the dynamics in our culture so that we can talk about mental health, mental illness, mental health disorders, whatever you want to call it as easily as we can talk about cancer now? And the other physical health conditions. So that was the beginning of my real journey into mental health advocacy. And during that time I again, you know, big researcher and reader. What I discovered was that half of all lifetime cases of mental health disorders start before the age of 14 years old. And if that’s true, and it is, and one out of five kids struggle with a mental health disorder, we need to start talking about kids mental health or youth mental health in order to get to prevention and early intervention. If we wait, and we do...what we do as a society is crisis intervention and we’re trying to stop the crisis, but how are we really going to reduce suicide rates and really really make an impact if we’re ignoring the steps we need to take for early intervention and prevention which is taking care of children’s mental health. So I became very involved in every mental health organization I could possibly find to think of. I started going to all the national conferences and what I discovered, this was about seven years ago, was that at the time there were no organizations that were completely invested in youth, in just the topic of youth mental health. By youth I mean 26 and under. There were some that had some focus on young adults and there’s some great organizations that are focused on college kids and we’re starting to see some movement prior to the pandemic into the high school area, but at the time...and then I made the movie and I went to the big national organizations and said, look, I have this movie and I’ll come volunteer. You know, I’ll work for you for free but we need to talk about kids. And many of them said to me, Randi, the world is not ready for that. And then I thought, darn, I do not want to start a non-profit organization. That’s really hard work, but I felt like I had to because no one was doing it. And so that’s sort of how The Youth Mental Health Project started in a nutshell is, OK, if there’s no one else out there doing the work focusing on children, then someone has to stand up and do it and be the face. So, anyway. Again, long story.

Tina: Nope, not at all. So I do want to have there are lots of resources on your website and lots of great things happening with the Project and one of those things is support groups for families. So talk just a teeny bit about that.

Randi: OK, I’ll try not to go on so long this time. As I said, I started a support group out of my house about 16 years ago with this one other mom I met and that one other mom who had a kid like mine. And meeting her made all the difference in my life. It really did. It just changed the trajectory of how I saw things and how I felt about things. And so we started a support group and, you know, this was before Facebook and internet and hundreds over the years, hundreds and hundreds of families came. I mean, people would drive two hours to come to the support group which we ran twice a month. Sometimes we’d have 40 people in our houses. And so when I wrote the movie, I had started The Youth Mental Health Project and I do a lot of public speaking and was traveling around the country doing public speaking on children’s mental health and everywhere I went, there would be a line of parents to talk to me afterwards and say, I’m the only one. You’re the only one I’ve ever met. You know, they’re like secretly whispering, you know, we don’t have any support here. And I thought, you’re all standing in line here. Introduce yourselves to each other. Of course I didn’t do that because I would break confidentiality but I realized, you know, why isn’t there a support group in every community? I mean, there’s an AA in every community, there are breast cancer support groups in every community.

Tina: You’re right.

Randi: Yeah, you know where to find your people for almost any issue but this. And so, you know, it took us two years. We sat down and wrote and developed a replicable, scalable program to bring support groups into every community. And so that launched two years ago. It’s called the Parent Support Network. And in the first year, just by word of mouth, we were in ten locations in five different states and then we went to virtual because of the pandemic. And now we’re in every state in the country virtually. And we have increased our, you know we train our parent volunteer facilitators. It’s a parent to parent program. Parents helping parents. We learn our best everything from other parents. We do. And yes. Searching for resources and doctors and how do you handle it when this happens, your schools. Orthodontists, right? We just get our best information from other parents and so that’s what the program is meant to be. It’s a support program for parents to help other parents navigate this journey and I have so many parents who sometimes find it later. You know, I wish I had this. A lot of our volunteers are moms like us who feel like, if they had had this themselves, it would have made a difference. So how can I now...or maybe they did go to some kind of support and they were like, we want to give back and help other people through their journey. And so it’s been really incredible. My goal is to really have it when we go back into person in every community. For anyone out there who knows anything about AA, it started with these two guys, Bill and Bob and their wives who were really important behind the scenes. And now, you know, AA is everywhere and it’s changed the face of addiction. And so we have to support each other first. It’s very hard to stand up and educate and be proactive about, you know, any kind of green ribbon movement like breast cancer when you’re still dealing with crisis. And also, it’s open to parents who maybe don’t know, right? You don’t have to have...your child doesn’t have to have a diagnosis to go to the support group. You can be a parent of a child and you’re just worried and you don’t know. Is this something that I should be worried about? Or, you know, what’s going on? So a lot of parents come, you know, certainly there are parents who come who have kids who have diagnoses and are in crisis, but there are a lot of parents who come who just don’t know and they’re looking for information. And we’re growing! So we just started, we just started to separate into two...not separate. We have general meeting. We also have meetings for kids 16 and under, for parents of kids 16 and under. We have special meetings for parents of young adults. We are starting a grandparent meeting pretty soon and we’re hoping the more volunteers we get on board, the more we will be able to have, kind of specific topic or population types of meetings in addition to our regular open meetings that are open to anyone. So, it’s very exciting.

Tina: It is super exciting and I think what I will acknowledge most is the validation. That validation of parents as their own experts and the connection that those support groups provide. It really does shift people into a place of power really, right? To be able to do that. So let’s shift a little bit right this second to talk about, kind of bring it back to us. And we know that taking good care of ourselves is totally vital. It is not a choice. Vital for our own well being. So we’re curious about your take on self-care.

Randi: Oh my goodness. Well, when I was in the thick of it and my children were young and particularly during the two or three years my son was really, just very ill between the ages of nine and twelve, I did nothing for myself. I didn’t have the strength. I didn’t have the “time”. And sure enough, you know, when he went to residential treatment I finally picked myself up and started taking care of myself, went to the doctor and I had breast cancer. So you know, there are all sorts of theories about that, right? But that’s really when I know and I have two other kids to take care of, so I really need to take care of myself because I cannot be helpful to my kids if I’m not strong, as strong as I can possibly be at any given moment. And self-care looks different, you know, it’s a term that we’re all using these days, right? It looks different for everybody and I think what’s important is to try to figure out what it is for you. For some people it’s as simple as, you know, 10 minutes of meditation or breathing if you don’t want to use the word meditation or just being alone or eating better. It doesn’t have to be, I’m gonna exercise every single day and I’m gonna, you know, you don’t have to put yourself in this major healthcare regiment. You have to acknowledge that you’re an independent, individual person too and it’s OK to take time to take a breath, to not cook dinner, to hide in your room for a half an hour, right? It’s OK and whatever that is at any given point is really important because when I started really acknowledging my own pain, my own issues and that was both through therapy and taking care of myself physically and I started taking medication because I was very depressed about everything that was happening and very anxious. And you know, I found my own ways of helping myself and the world changed for me. And I was really such a better parent. I mean, such a better parent. And then was able to take on the work that I’m doing now. I couldn’t do the work that I do for other families if I wasn’t taking time to make sure I’m taking care of myself. I just have to admit, I’m pretty bad at it. As I told you, I fell two weeks ago and I crushed my elbow and needed surgery. And you know, my team laughs at me sort of, I mean not really. And they say, well maybe someone’s telling you to slow down and take it easy. I literally have one hand to use. I can’t do anything. I thought, OK, I guess I need to, you know, take some quiet time. And so sometimes you do have to listen to your body.

Tina: Yeah, for sure.

Randi. Yeah. Your body will tell you.

Serena: So we have one last question for you today. We believe families know what they need. We know what we need. And often we like to ask the miracle question. So, here it is.

Randi: Uh-oh.

Serena: ..if the world were just...I know, I know.

Randi: Uh-oh. What are you going to ask me?

Serena: So if, in your perfect world, right. If the world were just the way you wanted it to be, what would that be like for you, for your family, for the schools, for the community? And again, I know this is a huge question, but are there a couple, like, themes that you imagine that, this is what we all need?

Randi: Yeah. I envision a world where we have the tools and knowledge and resources necessary to take care of our mental health as readily and easily as we take care of our physical health. That we’re able to not only just talk about it, but have awareness or have knowledge, but then that we have the resources and tools. So I mean, resources are a big problem and we don’t put enough money into the mental health system or into educating more trained mental health professionals. So, you know, people say all the time to me, you’re all about teaching people and talking about it but if there aren’t any resources available, what’s the point? Which is a good question but then I say, how are we gonna get those resources if we’re never talking about it? And so you have to start somewhere but in the ideal world, the vision is that. And in that world you don’t need The Youth Mental Health Project, right? Because we all know where to go and what to do and we know how to not only strengthen our children’s mental health and provide early intervention and prevention, like washing your hands for other infectious diseases but we also understand the signs and the symptoms and then we know what to do about it. So that to me is the ideal world and I believe we can get there. There’s a lot of work still left to be done. A lot of work. Yeah. But that’s why we all do what we do, right?

Tina: Exactly right and we’re gonna keep doing it. For sure. So, we can’t thank you enough for joining us today. I think I can speak for both Serena and I when I say that you are certainly one of our soul sisters from the moment we met and fellow mamas in mental health, for sure. You’ve taken your pain and made so much good with an amazing movie and your service to larger organizations and with your creation of The Youth Mental Health Project. The support you are providing is invaluable to the parents out there! Yeah. You’re awesome.

Randi: Thank you. Thank you. And you guys too. I mean, first of all, I love the name of your podcast. Even though I gave a lot of explanations, but really when you’re with soul sisters, when you’re with other Mental Health Mamas, I love that too, right? You don’t have to explain because we know. And it’s interesting when parents come to support group for the first time and they are hesitant to tell this story about their kid running around the house because of a fork and then we say, we promise there’s nothing you can say that I have not heard before and they’re shocked when it’s true. When I say, oh wait til I tell you this story! It’s important that we stick together because together we’ll make a difference and so I’m thrilled to find the two of you and all the good work you’re doing both with the podcast and the other things that you do in your life and I hope we can continue to collaborate and do things together because that’s what we need. You know, we need to spread our mission to broader audiences and I just love your podcast! I listen to it all the time. It’s great! It’s a great podcast!

Serena: Yeah, so Randi, thank you so much. I’m so glad we were able to connect and get to know each other better. So, I’m just gonna say, you have an open invitation to join us again here on the podcast any time you want.

Randi: Thank you. Don’t be surprised! You may hear from me!

Serena: OK!

Tina: Open invitation and we’re fine. So podcast friends, we are, as always, very grateful to all of you for listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leave us a review, subscribe and please share with others.

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks for listening!

Serena: Bye!