Ocean City Today
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Emotional support group meeting in Pines, March 27

By Josh Davis | Mar 08, 2018
Photo by: SUBMITTED IMAGE Berlin resident Colby Phillips is spearheading a new emotional support group, offering attendees a place to anonymously talk about mental health problems. The group meets monthly in the Ocean Pines Community Center on 235 Ocean Parkway.

(March 9, 2018) A personal tragedy last year led Berlin resident Colby Phillips to launch the Renee Gavas Emotional Support Group.

Phillips said a friend called looking for such a group last summer, a place where she could “discuss her depression with other people who might be able to offer advice on how to cope or discuss similar experiences.”

“She couldn’t find one [and] unfortunately she took her life in October,” Phillips said. “When I heard about it I just had a strong desire to start an emotional support group in her name.”

Phillips said her own struggles also inspired the group.

“I think most people would tell you I am a pretty positive, happy person, but I had postpartum depression, seasonal sadness, times where I felt I couldn’t get myself moving,” she said. “I’m not ashamed of that. It’s given me strength and now, hopefully, the opportunity to help someone else, even if it’s only one person.”

She contacted several local people to help found the group, including Worcester County Warriors Against Opiate Addiction cofounder Heidi McNeely, and Tom McGrath and Mike Phillips.

The support group, which first met in November, gathers once a month at the Ocean Pines Community Center.

Phillips said meetings have no agenda, but are simply a gathering of people wanting to offer help and start a conversation. Those in attendance are asked to respect the privacy of others.

“The word ‘mental’ often scares people,” she said. “There is this stigma that it means people are crazy, when in reality there are over 200 types of mental illness: depression, anxiety, bipolar, ADHD, OCD, PTSD, dementia, schizophrenia, and the list goes on. And I am sure everyone reading this either feels one of these emotions or knows someone who does.

“Many times it can be a small occurrence that triggers an emotional feeling we have kept deep down inside. Maybe something from our childhood. Maybe an event that hurt us. Maybe an event we saw or dealt with. My point is mental health issues are so much more common than we know and education on this topic is so important,” Phillips added.

“No one should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed with having any of these feelings. We shouldn’t label people – people are so much more than just ‘depressed.’ And we shouldn’t be scared off by hearing the word ‘mental,’” Phillips said. “As a society, we just haven’t been educated enough on the levels of mental illness and the many forms of it. I just feel it’s important to let people know it’s okay to talk about it, especially living in an area that struggles with a lot of seasonal depression.”

Feedback on the meetings has been positive, but Phillips said attendance so far has been somewhat tepid.

“I think people feel embarrassed, especially when you live in a small town. They think if they come they may be labeled,” she said. “The hardest step is the first one when dealing with any type of situation to confront our struggles, no matter what they are. But I want people to know they are entering a nonjudgmental room of compassion and people who not only may be seeking help, but are there to offer it.

“I think in our society today we lack a genuine kindness and I truly think it starts there,” Phillips continued. “I’m not a medical expert by any means, but I’ve lived life. I really want to bring more education on mental health issues. I would love to see more discussions in our schools with our children.

“Many of our kids communicate through electronics and don’t know how to deal with live conversations – let alone their emotions,” she said. “I would like to see more funding for our overwhelmed counselors, who people have to wait months to see. But mostly I want this group to make a positive difference in someone’s life. I hope if someone gets the phone call one day asking them if they know of a support group, they will be able to give them the answer that I was unable to.”

The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 27 at 7 p.m. at the Ocean Pines Community Center on 235 Ocean Parkway. For more information, contact Phillips at cphillips7427@icloud.com.

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