University of Denver’s GSPP Launching Family Support Clinic

University of Denver

July 11, 2023

A generous grant from the Caring for Denver Foundation has enabled the Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP) at the University of Denver’s Trauma and Disaster Recovery Clinic (TDRC) to launch a new program this fall to support families of children with significant mental health conditions.

The Family Support Clinic (FSC) will offer critical services to parents of dependents in Denver aged 13-25 who are experiencing conditions such as bipolar disorder, psychotic disorders, schizophrenia and significant mood disorders.

“Illnesses of this nature are often first recognized in adolescence and young adulthood,” says Professor Judith Fox, who is the program lead. Fox explains that overt symptoms—episodes of psychosis, for example—may be the first clue that they are facing a significant mental health condition that requires swift attention

Some conditions, such as bipolar illness or schizophrenia, may persist throughout a person’s lifetime—and while family members need to be highly involved to produce the best outcomes, they should also be mindful of their own mental and physical health on their caretaking journey.

“Parenting in these challenging circumstances requires a great deal of fortitude and persistence,” Fox says. “It is pretty difficult to do your best as a parent when you feel distressed, exhausted, isolated or traumatized by what’s going on with your child—and such feelings are understandable and common.”

She says the program will provide parents with a supportive space to talk about their personal stresses and challenges, equipping them with the tools to balance self-care with the care needed to support their vulnerable loved ones.

Fox explains that burnout is a very real concern, and it’s difficult for people who are unfamiliar to understand what it is like to be a source of such intensive support for an adolescent or young adult. This is why parent support groups, which offer parents an opportunity to talk to professionals as well as other parents who understand the unique experiences they encounter every day, are integral to the program. FSC will give them guidance, including education about mental health conditions, skills to boost self-esteem and strategies for reducing stress in a safe and empathetic space. Participants will explore ways to enhance their relationships with their affected loved ones and also have access to vital information about helpful community resources.

FSC was created to help families feel less isolated and more understood, giving them ways to speak with others about their challenges and feel less stigmatized and alone. Additionally, participants will explore how they might enhance a community of support for themselves by creating a network of family, friends and compassionate care to help them deal with the complexities of their lives.

Experts sometimes need education, too, and so this program is also designed to empower parents as advocates by helping them develop strategies for persisting with and educating providers about their children’s conditions. University graduate students who are participating in the clinic will be working in partnership with the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) to deliver NAMI training, classes, and talks in the community, working to increase provider and peer education and develop a richer understanding of the needs of this population.

“While these significant mental health conditions may require ongoing treatment and attention throughout one’s life, they can be successfully managed—and people can live satisfying, full lives,” Fox says. “The support of parents and family makes all the difference in achieving these positive outcomes.”

Helping parents maintain their emotional health and stamina while supporting loved ones is key. Fox plans to take a lifespan approach in the future, expanding services to include people who care for family members in older age groups.

The clinic is set to launch services in October 2023. Fox will be taking calls for interested Denver families in September, and services will be offered at no charge.

For more information about the Family Support Clinic, contact Judith Fox at judith.fox@du.edu or 303-756-1651.