A lifeline for local parents

Submitted by Erica Schumacher – 

Phyllis Grant-Parker has a personal mission to provide support, understanding and a message of hope to parents and caregivers whose children have mental health or addiction challenges. She is the Chair of Parents’ Lifelines of Eastern Ontario (PLEO), a non-profit charitable organization supporting families throughout Ottawa and surrounding counties.

Phyllis is driven by her own experience. 16 years ago, she found herself lost in the maze of the mental healthcare system, feeling, as she describes, like “a deer caught in the headlights.” But with her determination, tenacity and a mother’s love she became his fierce advocate. That grew to advocacy and support for other families and the driving force behind PLEO.

Incorporated in 2000, PLEO started out with a small group of passionate volunteer mothers who provided a monthly support group at CHEO and tirelessly advocated for families.

“I had the PLEO telephone helpline on my home office desk,” describes Phyllis.

PLEO gradually became recognized as the voice of families. In 2012, with the financial support of the Ottawa United Way and the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), PLEO launched a bilingual, confidential Parent’s Helpline (613-321-3211). Parents and caregivers of children and youth under 25 can call and speak to Family Peer Supporters on staff.

Since its inception, PLEO has expanded services throughout Ottawa and the surrounding counties. It has grown from the one initial monthly support group to 15 support groups. It has helped over 1200 families through the telephone helpline and over 1000 parents in person.

Phyllis stresses that we should think of mental wellness the same way we think of physical wellness. One in five children and youth will experience a mental health issue but only one in six will receive the help they need. Suicide is the leading cause of non-accidental death among youth. Most serious mental illnesses present before and during adolescence and early intervention is critical to positive long-term outcomes.

While there has been improvement, stigma remains a significant issue. It prevents people from seeking support and, sadly, isolates the families who need the most help. While family and friends mean well, speaking to someone who has been there can sometimes be more meaningful. It allows the parents to open up and feel they can really share. All PLEO staff has lived though experiences with their own children and as such, are able to offer support as well as assistance in how to navigate a complex system.

“That is the mission of PLEO,” says Phyllis. “When we support the parents and caregivers, we help the child.”

Children and youth with good family support have better outcomes, but to be the advocates their children need, parents also need support and knowledge.

To mark Canada Mental Health Week (May 1 to 7), PLEO is hosting a parent information event at Dovercourt Recreation Centre from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on May 7. Experts from CHEO, Dr. Hazen Gandy and Crisis Worker, Noah Spector, will discuss the risks of technology to children’s mental wellness and provide parents with ideas on how to mitigate these risks. The event is open to all and there is no cost to attend.

For more information about PLEO, go to pleo.on.ca.

How can you help? 

Spread the word! Let others know about PLEO so they can get the support they need. While PLEO is partially funded by the United Way and Ontario’s Champlain Local Health Integration Network, it relies on the community for additional support. You can donate directly through the website at pleo.on.ca, or donate to PLEO as part of the Scotiabank Charity Challenge at Ottawa’s Tamarack Race Weekend.

Erica Schumacher is a neighbourhood parent who strives for life balance and variety. She sporadically tweets and blogs as @kitchissippikid. She volunteers on the board of PLEO.

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