Aspen Strong has long argued that candid conversations about mental health can help people heal while reducing the stigma of struggle.
“The more we talk about it, the better we feel,” said Angilina Taylor, chair of the board of directors of the local nonprofit association. “This is the first step in curing this thing that is bothering you. “
A new support group, “Time to Talk”, is the organization’s latest initiative to promote this mission.
Led by Aspen Strong co-founder Lawrence Altman and Treasurer Andy Godfrey, attendees come together on Zoom each month to share their stories of struggling with – and surviving – mental health issues. He debuted in December; the next meeting is Wednesday.
The group is confidential, a place of listening and listening without pressure or judgment; with a cap of 20 participants, everyone has the opportunity to express themselves, but it is not mandatory that the participants share their difficulties during the meeting.
Sharing the triumphs and challenges of mental health can be an “incredibly liberating experience,” said Altman. He and Godfrey were inspired to start the group while sharing their experiences in the months following Altman’s stay at a treatment center that offered several daily support groups to clients.
“To me, what I got out of these bands was unreal,” Altman said. “People suddenly have this feeling of security and comfort when they are in the room where they feel like they can talk about things with other people who are going through similar things that they have never been able to. speak.”
The community element of support groups is central to the group. By creating an environment in which participants can relate to others, Altman and Godfrey hope to raise awareness of the shared experience of mental health issues.
“By sharing our stories and what we’ve been through, we hope people can relate to themselves,” Godfrey said. “We don’t know what aspect of the story they’re going to relate to, but they’re probably going to relate to something, and that familiarity is what then allows them to open up and talk about their own situation.”
This can create a “positive feedback loop,” Godfrey said; The group encourages participants to share their struggles with mental health while helping others cope with their own challenges.
“It’s a win-win,” he said. “I have never found anything else in my life that is as rewarding as this, ‘wow, that helps me, and that helps this person.'”
Godfrey and Altman also hope the support group contributes to Aspen Strong’s mission to destigmatize mental health through open dialogue. Both in their mid-50s, the two said they grew up with an attitude that emotions should be ignored rather than dealt with, which they hope to remedy with these monthly meetings.
“During our generation, we were taught to sweep things under the rug rather than discuss it,” Godfrey said. “It was seen as a weakness, you know? We’re trying to turn that into a force – if you’re open and genuine people are going to love you. “
Accepting mental health issues rather than burying them can be life changing (and even save lives), Altman said.
“There is a huge stigma; … It’s like you have to vacuum, put on your sneakers, go for a run and do whatever you have to do, but you can’t admit this vulnerability, ”Altman said. “Let me tell you that not admitting my vulnerability and not asking for help from others almost made me disappear. “
Group organizers recognize that taking the first step by signing up for a support group meeting can be a “leap of faith,” as Godfrey called it. He encouraged those who were nervous to take the leap by first “dipping their toe in the water” and only listening at the beginning; it is not mandatory for participants to speak during the meeting.
About half a dozen participants attended each of the first two meetings; Altman said the group will “grow organically” through word of mouth.
“Every little thing that we do (at Aspen Strong) kind of starts off as a movement, and this mental health movement is so important because there are so many people who are suffering,” Altman said.
“We’re just hoping for the ripple effect,” Godfrey added. “Throw that rock in the water and it just starts to emanate from there.”