Anna S.* knows what it is like to grow up with a sibling who struggles with mental health issues. The public meltdowns, the hours spent in waiting rooms during her brother’s countless therapy sessions and the fear of bringing home friends who might not understand were all too familiar to the 16-year-old high school sophomore.
What was missing from Anna’s life was a group she could share these challenges with, people who could relate firsthand to her experiences, thoughts and feelings.
“… as the sibling, I did not receive the same support my sibling did,” she says. “As I became older, I began looking for a community for myself. Through everything, I realized that I needed my own safe space, something to call mine, not my sibling’s, not my family’s, but mine.”
“I realized that I needed my own safe space, something to call mine, not my sibling’s, not my family’s, but mine.”
— Anna S.
After being unable to find an existing support group that was ongoing and geared toward people her age, Anna decided to take matters into her own hands and create the community she sought. She came up with the idea for Sib4Sib, a support system for teens who have siblings struggling with mental health. After applying for and receiving the Deutsch Family Micro Grant through the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and securing help from educators and administrators at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Anna was able to put her dream into action.
Sib4Sib is designed for teen siblings (ages 12-18) of children struggling with various kinds of mental health issues including ADHD/ADD, anxiety, depression, ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), emotional impairment and others. The central goal of the program is to show siblings, who are often profoundly affected by the needs of the sibling with mental health challenges, that they are not alone with their feelings and experiences. The group will provide a safe space for siblings to express their emotions and be around other people who understand what they are living with every day.
In addition to providing an outlet and support system, the program will help siblings develop skills for dealing with their built-up emotions and create strategies for dealing with the everyday challenges of their unique family situation.
Sammi Shapiro, educational administrative assistant at Adat Shalom, will serve as the group’s adviser. Dr. Dana Shapero, a local psychologist who specializes in teen mental health, will facilitate the group, which meets at Adat Shalom on Thursday nights from 6-8 pm beginning Oct. 26.
“Confidentiality is extremely important to us,” Anna said. “Dr. Shapero and I have developed a contract not only for teens, but for parents, too. Everything said is to be kept in the group and parents are not allowed to ask teens questions. Teens must come to them first; and if they choose to approach their parents, they are asked to not disclose names.”
Shapero said, “When one member of a family is struggling with mental health, it touches the lives of each individual in the family unit. The way that this can impact siblings is unique, especially for adolescents. Often siblings are left to navigate this on their own, which can be incredibly challenging and isolating. The fact that the group is created by an individual who truly gets what it is like as a sibling makes this a unique and special opportunity.”
Anna’s parents say they are proud of their daughter’s initiative and grateful for the support from the Adat Shalom staff.
“We’re proud of what she [Anna] has accomplished,” said her father, “and Adat Shalom has been wonderful. From the administrators to the rabbis, everyone thinks it’s a great idea and a much-needed program.”
*Anna’s name is a pseudonym to protect the family’s anonymity.